Conserving an album-painting in gouache on paper

As part of the Human Image exhibition, this Indian miniature painting required conservation treatment. It was considered a high conservation priority because areas of the paint layer were lifting from the paper support. This can be a common problem with Indian miniatures.

Miniatures are often painted with opaque mineral pigments such as malachite, lapis lazuli and precious metals such as gold, and plant extracts like indigo. The delicate images are created using a fine brush, which allows the pigment to be applied to a laminated sheet of paper made from linen fibres.

The paper expands and contracts with the changing amount of moisture in the atmosphere but the pigment layer does not move. After many years, this creates a lot of tension between the paper and paint. The paint layer can crack or split and often paint-loss occurs. The flaky green pigment can be seen here.

To repair this damage and to prevent further losses a small amount of consolidant is applied. In this case methyl cellulose was used. The consolidant is applied with a very fine brush, often under a microscope to re-adhere the paint layer to the paper support.

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