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Detail, Limehouse, by James McNeill Whistler, F1888.33.

Paper Conservation: Past Projects



Detail, Shoreline in Moonlight, by Kawase Hasui, S2003.8.547.

Japanese works-on-paper project

The Robert O. Muller Collection consists of more than 4,500 Japanese woodblock prints, representing 240 artists, and is one of the world's finest collections of Japanese prints from the late 1860s through the 1940s. The prints came to the museum in high-quality mats; however, many of them were stuck to the mats with random applications of adhesive or pressure-sensitive tapes. To properly house them and allow for digitization, we treated and detached the 270 prints that were stuck in their mats. The treatment included physically separating the print from the mat using a scalpel, followed by removing paper and adhesive residues from the verso (or back). Finally, all of the Muller collection woodblock prints were rehoused in unbuffered storage folders. Japanese prints are one of the only subsets of paper-based materials that require unbuffered folders, due to the sensitivity of some colorants to the high pH (alkalinity) of buffered materials.

Whistler Collection survey:

Etching by James McNeill Whistler titled Doorway and Vine, and radiograph revealing the Posthorn watermark.

Although best known for his paintings, the expatriate American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) is also widely acknowledged as the greatest printmaker since the Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669). The Freer Gallery of Art has the largest collection of Whistler prints in North America. A comprehensive survey of Whistler’s art on paper was undertaken to examine and document condition, media, watermarks, signatures, inscriptions, type of paper and pulp characteristics, and ink color. Radiographs were taken of all of the watermarks found.


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