Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Care of Japanese Prints

It’s important to know what to do with prints when you buy them; these are after all rare and valuable things and a long term investment. People collect ukiyo-e for a variety of reasons; some are collectors with a real passion for the subject or for a particular artist, others appreciate the art but also wish to amass a substantial portfolio of work which can be realised... sold on some years later for profit. Investment is the key driver in the market and Japanese woodblock prints are fast becoming valuable commodities and a good hedge against inflation.

Given that some prints are very valuable indeed, the question is what to do with them when you have them. At Toshidama Gallery we acquire prints from sources all over the world, and more often than not they arrive rolled in cardboard tubes, or folded loose in a padded bag, and backed with all the wrong papers and mounts. The first thing we do is try to remedy these problems to prevent further damage.

There are two schools of thought with regard to the safe storage of prints. Some people feel strongly about not mounting prints; while others, like ourselves, take the long view that if properly mounted, the print is kept flat, easily managed and better protected for long term storage. At Toshidama the first thing we do is to remove prints from inappropriate mounts and flatten them if they have suffered curling. We never join triptychs but nor do we separate them if they have been previously joined.

Prints should be mounted professionally using rice paper conservation tape which these days is fully reversible. The board should be acid free conservation mounts since the acid in ordinary card will encourage the print to yellow and go brittle. Window mounts in the same material definitely enhance the look of a print but also protect the surface from contact by other sheets. Finally, we store prints in acid free mylar protective conservation sleeves which prevent humidity changes and protect against accidental damage. This is how our prints are shipped; flat-packed in custom, stiffened mailers, ready to be stored directly by the client or framed for display. This saves the purchaser a huge amount of work, who otherwise would have to source a conservation framer to carry out the same job. Prints should be stored out of direct sunlight either flat or vertically and sensible precautions should be taken to avoid damp or mildew.

We recommend that the prints are kept as they are. However the outer frame dimensions can easily be changed without detaching the print from its backing. Early vegetable-dyed prints (pre-1830) should rarely be exposed to light without full spectrum museum quality UV protection glass. Later prints are more hardy and the inexpensive, lesser grade UV glass can be used. We generally use simple dark stained oak frames for ukiyo-e prints. The recent British Museum and Royal Academy Kuniyoshi exhibition used more or less identical frames to our own.The Toshidama Gallery is always happy to advise on conservation matters and to supply framed prints if clients request them.

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