Ackland Art Museum - Japanese Painting Conservation I
CONSERVATION TREATMENT AND REMOUNTING COMPLETED AT THE NISHIOCONSERVATION STUDIO, WASHINGTON, D.C. Mekata Morimichi Japanese, 1815–1880 One Hundred Birds Admiring the Peacock, 1860 Mineral pigments, ink and gold on silk Gift of Eric and Martha Murray, ’87 and ’88This painting on silk was given to the Ackland in1997 by Eric and Martha Murray. Some timebefore it came into their possession, thepainting had been crudely pasted onto a heavycardboard backing which was causing physicaland chemical damage to the painting. Thework’s silk had darkened and become brittlewith age, and the paint was beginning thecrumble off the surface.
Raking light reveals numerous airbubbles between the silk and cardboardbacking. The silk was so brittle thatraised areas were easily breaking off.
The work’s paint is composed of ground mineral pigments and animalglue (gelatin). The greens of the peacock’s tail are malachite and theblues are azurite.
One of the first steps of conservation was to secure the many areas where thepaint was cracking or powdering off the silk. A dilute solution of isinglass— a verypure and colorless gelatin made from the air bladders of certain fish—wasbrushed into these areas.
Removing the cardboard backing was a laborious process, working from theback with the painting face down. The first layers of cardboard were cut or tornaway layer by layer. Water was then applied to soften the paste between the silkand the backings.
During this process, several conservators worked as a team with the painting facedown on a light box. Plastic sheeting prevented it from drying out.
The transmitted light from the light box helped the conservators distinguish thecardboard backing and lining paper from the silk of the painting.
In a few areas of the translucent silk, there was evidence of painting on both the front and the reverse, in which case the last thin layer of lining paper was left in place.appearance when wet appearance when dry
Moist cotton swabs and soft brushes were used to remove streaky pasteand discoloration from the reverse of the delicate silk.
The left half of this detail has been cleaned.
With the linings removed and the silk dry, it is easy to see how thin the silk is. The artist painted these birds on top of the branches.front of painting reverse of painting
The next step is lining the silk withthin, hand-made Japanese paperwhich has been dyed to harmonizewith the color of the silk. Here,several different colored swatchesare being considered.Note the numerous losses in the oldsilk.
Conservator Yoshi Nishio brushes dilute wheat starch paste onto a large sheet ofhand-made Japanese paper that will be used to line the silk.
With the painting face down and moist, the pasted-out lining paper is carefullysmoothed into place to avoid any bubbles, wrinkles, or distortions.
Because the painting is much larger than the sheets of hand-made paper, thelining was applied in sections. After several layers of lining, the painting waspasted along its edges onto a specially constructed drying board.
These photos show that the lining process has corrected the wrinkles andbubbles, but the old losses in the silk are still visible. These losses will be filledwith tiny inserts cut from new silk.
Nishio Conservation Studio has a wide variety of traditionally woven silks, enablingthem to choose one that closely matches the weave and thickness of the original.These silks have been artificially “aged” by ultraviolet light to make them as flexibleas the old silk. They are hand-dyed to harmonize with the original.
The shapes of the losses in the painting are traced with transmitted light,through clear Mylar (polyester film) onto the replacement silk. This ensuresthat the fills of new silk will fit exactly, without any overlap of the original.
The shapes are cut with a sharp blade and pasted into the losses from the frontof the painting. Because the specially prepared silk is very expensive, all scrapsare saved for future conservation projects.
These details show new silk fills in place, but not yet been inpainted tomatch the surrounding area.
These details show filled areas after inpainting with watercolor to match thesurrounding area. Watercolor is never applied to the original silk or paint.
Here we see the same area before treatment, after lining the silk, and after the fills have been toned with watercolor to harmonize with the surrounding silk.before treatment after lining after toning
Losses and abrasions in the original paint were not inpainted or restored because suchmodern additions could never be removed in the future without damaging the originalpaint. They could also interfere with our understanding of the original brushwork.
This painting was originally designed to be a rigid panel, rather than a hangingscroll. It was mounted to a specially constructed support made of a lattice work ofwood covered by many layers of Japanese paper.
The last stage of treatment was to design a frame appropriate to the period andstyle of the painting. With proper care and handling, the conserved and remountedpainting may be enjoyed for many generations to come.
The Ackland Art Museum thanks the many sponsors of the conservation of our Asian paintings: The Sumitomo Foundation The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Shirley Drechsel and Wayne Vaughn Office of the Provost of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Docents of the Ackland Art Museum
If you would like to sponsor future conservation projects, please contact Ackland conservator Lyn Koehnline at email@example.com