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Conserving the Gan Ku Tiger scroll painting at the British Museum

© Trustees of the British Museum. Created by British Museum.

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Video transcript

in 2007 the scroll painting called tiger by the Japanese artist gang ku was conserved at the here yama studio in the British Museum this painting is one of the most important artworks in the museum's Japanese collection the treatment consisted of cleaning the painting and replacing the scroll mount it's now possible to display it within temporary exhibitions in the museum's Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese galleries treating the painting involved close collaboration between skilled conservators from the British Museum and the Association for conservation of national treasures in Japan it's quite a long and complicated process to remount a traditional Japanese hanging scroll the painting still had its original mounting from when it was acquired in the 1930s it had become very soiled it wasn't as strong as it should have been so we wanted to come up with a completely new mounting that would show it in its true magnificence there are many stages in treating a painting like the Gangu tiger first you have to dismantle the old scroll then you treat the painting itself in this case the painting was in pretty good condition that they needed to do a little bit of surface cleaning after the conservators had analyzed the condition of the Gangu painting prior to its treatment the first stage of assembling removing and cleaning the backing began one of the most interesting stages of the whole treatment for myself was to be able to see the back of the painting because once you've taken all the old paper linings off the work it's a unique chance to actually see the back of the silk because the silk paintings are so delicate once all the old weak linings have been removed the conservators apply new handmade Japanese papers for support and protection this is one of the conservators making wheat starch paste it's used to attach the lining to the painting in these pictures you can see the conservators and the curators starting to think about the next stage they're making critical choices about the color texture pattern and dimensions of the mount which will surround the painting small hammers are gently used along the joints to create an effective bond because treatments on silk paintings like Ganges Tiger are so rarely undertaken there was wide interest in all the processes here one of the conservators is explaining how the layers of backing need to be prepared by moistening them through the use of fine sprays and brushes after the final backing paper is applied steady and careful pounding with heavy brushes begins this ensures that the backing is effectively and smoothly adhered with the backing attached the Gangu scroll is left to dry for over four months when the conservators were finally satisfied that the mount was fully dried they had the exciting task of preparing the painting to be hung and displayed a roller rod is fixed to the base of the mount and a hanging stayed to the top of the mount metal fittings are hammered in and tying cords are attached the scroll is now ready to be rolled up and await its display it was time for staff at the British Museum to say goodbye to the colleagues from Japan who had worked with them on the treatment of the painting the conservators went to look at the painting while it was on display at the Japanese gallery everyone was very grateful for the kind donation made by the Sumitomo foundation to make the treatment possible it had been a long yet rewarding process and all were delighted to see how their work had paid off you