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Conserving 4 fusuma (sliding door panel) paintings: Birds and Flowers of Autumn and Winter

These fusuma are a series of four temple sliding doors, depicting scenes from the four seasons. The paintings are attributed to the Kanō school and belong to the Momoyama Period (1575-1615). They were painted using opaque, inorganic pigments and impasto (paint applied thickly) on paper, heightened with the lavish use of gold and silver.

The artist used expensive, coarsely ground blue and green mineral pigments such as malachite and azurite. A white paint, gofun (ground oyster shell), was applied as a thick layer, which proved to be very susceptible to flaking and chipping.

The treatment programme involved consolidation of the unstable pigment to enable safe handling for subsequent wet treatment. To prepare the paintings for consolidation and cleaning, a grid method was devised using elasticated cotton thread so that the treatment could be carried out systematically over a considerable area.

In order to improve the adhesion of the friable (crumbly) paint surface, a dilute solution of animal glue (nikawa) was applied with a small brush to the surfaces of the individual pigments. Small syringes with flexible needles were used to release the adhesive under the flaking pigment. Absorption by each pigment depends upon the particle size and how much of the former binder remains. Pigments therefore have different rates of absorption and must be treated individually. Consolidation may be repeated if necessary during the next stages of conservation.