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Historic repairs

Victorian train timetable fragment used in historic repairs ©

During treatment, specialist external conservators discovered fragments of a Victorian railway timetable securing torn areas on the reverse of the screens. These historic repairs suggest the screen paintings were regularly used and admired at the British Court. The stations listed in the timetable begin at Windsor, which indicates that early repairs may have taken place at the Castle there. The train timetable was probably used because replacement Japanese paper was not readily available at the time.

Conservators also found that painted silk panels had been mounted on fewer layers of paper than was usual in 1860. Screen paintings of this kind are usually mounted on six to nine paper layers; this pair had just two or three each, which meant that acidic content from the inner wooden frames had discoloured the painted silk over time.

The reduced number of layers was likely because the paintings had to be mounted very quickly: in November 1859, a huge fire broke out at Edo Castle in what is now Tokyo, destroying the completed paintings. Replacements had to be hastily commissioned and prepared for dispatch to Britain at short notice.


Both screens have undergone conservation treatment due to their age and fragility.

The painted paper panels have been completely remounted. In the process, old linings and old repairs were removed, and tears were repaired and infills applied. Inner wooden frames supporting the paintings were cleaned and smoothed.

After this, paper conservators covered each side of the lattice frames with six layers of conservation grade Japanese tissue. These layers will protect the paintings from the wooden core and protect against damage caused by the natural movement of paper due to fluctuations of temperature and relative humidity.

The original paper hinges – which at some stage had been replaced with metal hinges – were reconstructed. New hinges were prepared using three layers of paper and gold leaf.

The gilded panels on the reverse of the screens were removed and dry cleaned with soft brushes, and then gently with deionized water and cotton swabs. Tears were repaired with starch paste and Japanese kōzo (mulberry) paper.

The painted silk panels and gilded panels were then pasted back onto the screens.

The original silk brocade borders were also removed, consolidated and reapplied during the conservation process.

After Conservation

Six-panel folding screen painting ©

Visitors will be able to see these vibrant screen paintings on display in Japan: Courts and Culture from 8 April 2022, just as they might first have been admired by Queen Victoria.