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Conserving the Gan Ku Tiger scroll painting

Gan Ku Tiger scroll painting

In 2007 the Gan Ku Tiger painting was chosen for a collaborative conservation project between British Museum conservators and the Renmei Scroll Mounting Federation in Japan.

The painting was in good condition but it was coming away from its backing, which is a threat to the painting itself and meant that it could not go on display. Full conservation of a hanging scroll involves removing the silk surround and the supporting layers of Japanese paper that give the painting strength and flexibility. During conservation the silk painting is therefore very vulnerable and requires a team of experienced specialists.

A large-scale and delicate conservation project was undertaken in the Museum’s Hirayama Studio, which specialises in the conservation of East Asian paintings on paper and silk and is the only one of its stature in Europe. Working together with conservators from the Renmei studios in Japan (studios designated by the Japanese government to work on paintings with National Treasure status), the Museum’s conservators completely remounted the scroll.

Initial investigations confirmed that the painting and lining papers were detached in many areas. The mount style and format were also found to be inappropriate for such a prestigious painting and needed to be replaced. The size of the painting added further challenges to the treatment.

The old lining was removed by spraying filtered water onto the front of the painting. This allows blotting paper underneath to absorb old adhesive and paper degradation products, which then dissolve. Wheat starch paste, put onto the paper and dried, was then used to attach a new lining of usumino Japanese paper. Uda paper was then added with a very thin paste (kept in storage for 10 years before it is used) and attached by pounding with uchibake brushes.

The work on the Tiger painting is one of a number of conservation projects carried out in collaboration with the Renmei Scroll Mounting Federation and sponsored by the Sumitomo Foundation.