Conservation of 48 Japanese Prints from the 1845-1848 Ogura nazorae hyakunin isshu Series by Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige and Kunisada by Agata Klos

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Copyright Agata Klos

In September 2014 Agata Klos presented the following paper in a poster format at the IIC Hong Kong Congress. Her poster was highly commended and NiC now prints the full article version of Agata’s work
Ogura nazorae hyakunin isshu (Take-offs Based on the Ogura [Version] of the One Hundred Poets, 小倉擬百人一首, 1845–1848) series is a compilation of 100 brocade pictures (nishiki-e) illustrating the anthology of 100 tanka poems edited by Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241) in 1230 titled Ogura hyakunin isshu (One Hundred Poems by One Poet Each).
The ukiyo-e series dates back to the end of first half of the 19th century (Tokugawa period, 1603–1868). The prints were designed by artists of the Utagawa School: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳, 1797–1861), Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重, 1779–1858) and Utagawa Kunisada (歌川国貞, 1786–1865). The depicted scenes were accompanied by short stories written by Ryūkatei Tanekazu (柳下亭 種員, 1807–1858). The designs were printed on washi paper made of kōzo fibres (Broussonetia papyrifera) in ōban tate-e size (circa 25 x 38 cm) using the nishiki-e technique and traditional colourants and binders (Fig. 1 & 2).
The 48 treated prints were assembled in Japan by Stanislaw Dembiński, a passionate Eastern art collector, in the period between the two Great Wars. The Polish collector mounted them on larger paper sheets. He also translated the poems and stories into Polish and wrote them on the back. To our knowledge this is the only existing example of the Ogura nazorae hyakunin isshu stories translated into the Polish language and one of few Polish translations of the Ogura hyakunin isshu poems.
The main goal of the project conducted in 2012–2013 was to minimize the effects of deterioration of the prints, and preserve them for the future in good physical condition.

Conservation Analysis
The conservation research included application of complementary non-destructive optical methods of identification of pigments and colorants, such as ultraviolet fluorescence photography and false-colour infrared photography, colposcopic and microscopic observation and image registration. The preliminary examination using optical methods was followed by x-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF) of pigments and characteristic analytical reactions of paper fibres and binders.

Deterioration and challenges in conservation
In order to determine the physical condition of the collection, a preservation survey was conducted, using a condition survey template inspired by a template created for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s (New York) Japanese print collection . The preservation survey allowed us to determine the main problem characterizing this print collection, which was physical damage caused by external factors. It was possible to distinguish damages characterizing all the prints, such as numerous small losses, frequent tears, creases, thinned edges and pilling of the fibers on the support surface.
Degradation of a physical and chemical nature included surface dirt, overall brown discoloration of the paper and numerous small stains. The prints were also relatively discoloured due to fading of the organic dyes and darkening of lead-based pigments. The presence of organic dyes was a problem because of their water-sensitivity, so an efficient and safe cleaning method had to be chosen. The large number of prints created a challenge for time management and workspace and treatment organization. To solve this problem a special agenda was created, in which treatment for each print was planned and followed carefully. In order to optimise efficiency, the prints were worked on groups for each treatment.

Conservation Treatment
All prints were detached from the collector’s mounting sheets which underwent preventive conservation treatment due to their unique cultural value. The pilling fibers on the surface of prints were removed using small scissors and tweezers. The next step was cleaning on a suction table, which due to water-sensitivity of the organic dyes was carried out in a sandwich composed of wetted blotting paper. Non-printed surfaces and margins were additionally bleached with 3% oxygen peroxide. After cleaning, the prints were treated with 0,75% methylcellulose. Weakened parts of the prints were reinforced and losses were filled with kōzo paper, using diluted starch glue.
In order to dry and stabilize fragile prints without flattening their 3-dimensional structure, they were mounted in kōzo paper false margins and seasoned on a karibari panel.

New storage method
Safe maintenance of the prints and translated texts was a priority, therefore a new method of storage was planned and executed, re-using window mats which originally housed the objects in the museum. Passe-partout windows were extended to avoid direct contact with prints. Low quality backboards were replaced with a high quality white core mount boards made of acid-free chemically purified pulp.
The collector’s sheets were mounted on the backboard using two small pieces of kōzo paper and few drops of diluted starch glue. The prints were attached to the backboard over the collector’s sheets, using false margins provided during the treatment and few drops of diluted starch glue. A larger sheet of Palatina (Fabriano) paper was placed between them as a protective interlayer.
The new housing minimises the possibility of future degradation, allows us to exhibit the prints and view both sides of the print and collector’s sheet.
All images in this article are the copyright of the author