Conserving a Japanese hanging scroll portray | A courtesan by Kitagawa Utamaro

published on July 3, 2020

isn't she beautiful

this is a hanging scroll painting by the


Kitagawa Oh tomorrow and it shows a

beautiful courtesan of Yoshiwara

pleasure quarter standing in her

apartment intently trying to read a

letter it's probably a letter from one

of her suitors maybe a love letter the

painting was done right at the end of a

tomorrows career he died in 1806 and we

think this painting was done probably in

the last year of his life so 18 5 1806

this is a painting which means or

tomorrow did it himself

it's an autographed work on paper and he

signed it here with his name tomorrow

he'd sue the brush of will tomorrow and

then impressed a red seal underneath the

signature when I tell you that there are

only about 50 painted works by tomorrow

that has survived in the world you'll

realize just how precious this work is

when the painting was acquired by the

British Museum in 2014 it had been cut

down from the original hanging scroll

format in which it would have been

enjoyed originally the museum

conservation team met with Yasuhiro

ochre director of the association for

the conservation of national treasures

to discuss the best course of action for

conserving the artwork the painting was

in quite poor condition showing creases

and delamination of the painted layers

what it did still have was this

beautiful embroidered fabric around the

outside of the painting

it was probably added to the scroll at

the end of the 19th century but it's

using fabric from an older kimono so we

have a beautiful woman wearing a

beautiful robe which in turn is

surrounded by another beautiful woman's

robe paper conservator case case

Sugiyama assistant consolidated the

paintings surface to ensure that fragile

areas were supported throughout the

various conservation processes once this

initial assessment and consolidation had

taken place textile conservators began

the initial cleaning of the silk borders

using soft brushes and low powered

vacuum cleaners the painting was next

disassembled entirely from the silk


the front of the painting was treated

with capillary washing to remove acidity

and dirt from the artwork the painting

was faced with temporary layers of thin

rayon paper to support the paint while

the backing of the painting was removed

each layer of backing was dampened to

assist in their removal


as the backing layers were removed

previous restoration efforts as well as

old insect damage could be seen and

assessed conservator makoto kajitani

laminated thin chinese chuan and

japanese causal papers to create a

strong support the temporary facing

layer supporting the front of the

painting could then be removed Anna and

I've been working on the embroidered

silk textile borders and what normally

happens when Scrolls re mounted in Japan

the tradition is that you would keep the

painting but the textile borders are

renewed so they would put new textile

around it but we decided that in this

case the borders were quite unusual

they've quite decoratively

embroidered with gold thread on it and

they are in a 19th century textiles and

would be worth saving the actual fabric

itself is made up of lots of little

pieces and they've been joined together

with a paper lining underneath which

makes it slightly different for anna and

i and we use a very fine silk thread

it's a silk come on a filament thread

it's a 44 down here it says reasonably

strong but our aim is to have something

that's strong enough to hold the thread

something a thread that will be strong

enough to withstand the entire

subsequent mounting but we're also

looking for a thread that's not too

strong so that it cuts through the

degraded original material we don't want

to be keep flipping the old textile

backwards and forwards that you might do

if you were sewing something at home so

that we want to keep it all very static

and still so we've got a hole cut out

under the area or sewing in which allows

us to just stitch passing the needle

from the top to the underneath for us

it's it's

really great that that we've got that

crossover between western constellations

where we kind of preserve everything and

the tradition of renewing and remounting

paintings where they would put new

textile and I'm really pleased that

we've working to preserve the original

textile the newly conserved and lined

silk borders were reattached to the

painting a digital mock-up was created

to assist in selecting the new silk to

complete the scroll mount the silk

chosen was woven by say taro Maud Aurora

who himself is a Japanese living

national treasure this silk was lightly

dyed so it matched the patina of the

original kimonos silk border


a paper lining was then added this

lining was secured by pounding the

entire surface with a thick gucci bucky

brush to ensure good bonding between all

the layers a final paper lining was then

added and roller rods and hanging braids

fitted the bottom roller rod had an

inscription detailing how the painting

had been conserved and recording the

names of all of those who worked on it

now this beautifully conserved or

tomorrow painting hangs in the newly

reopened Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese

galleries at the British Museum among

many other masterpieces of Japanese art


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