Chinese Tariff Map: History Flaking Apart

The Chinese Tariff Map came to The Conservation Center from a private collector who clearly understood the physical limitations of its condition. Our initial observations of the map made it clear that this would be an enormous and complicated treatment challenge. The best description of the paintings layers would be: paper on paper, then adhered on fabric. These very old layers beneath a much older painting or primary support helped us immediately understand that the panorama painting’s condition problems had a long history. 

Above: the Chinese Panorama upon its arrival at The Center

Above: Pre-treatment, detail of fractures and loss being re-fit

Our biggest challenges were to attempt cleansing, consolidation and flattening of severe distortions in the painting. We determined through a number of testing procedures that these three measures would be carried out, section by section, working from the center of the painting out. In addition, we discovered that the use of a dilute paper sizing functioned as a cleansing agent and a gentle adhesive which helped keep the many fragments in their place. These processes proved to be very laborious and we found that their repetition could be beneficial to the painting as well.

The continued localized efforts of cleansing with moisture and paper sizing took away much paper darkening. The treatment gave us the result of a painting with a brighter, lighter appearance. Our early testing helped us determine that the painted elements were stable and would tolerate these treatment processes. After many days/weeks of localized cleansing, consolidation, support stabilization, the laborious task of paper inserts and in-painting, often called re-touching, was carried out in an effort to make the painting appear more unified. The work was weighted overall at the conclusions of these many efforts. The long and complicated conservation processes were behind us.

Above:  Blotter washing in progress; stabilizing facing near the bottom of the panorama

The final step was the transfer of the work and the installation for the client. This was the first chance for us to view the work vertically and its narrative was immediately apparent to everyone involved: the panorama served as a tax map, and illustrated the movement of money throughout a Chinese village. The paper conservators I work with showed great ingenuity and stamina throughout this process and we are all pleased with the resolution.

Above:  Post treatment: Central detail shows the depth of the landscape with distant mountains