Funori, a Consolidation Method for Chinese Wallpapers
Susan Catcher
蘇珊. 卡切爾

In 2002, the Victoria and Albert Museum acquired a set of four panels of Chinese wallpaper. These wallpapers were originally purchased by Dame Merle Park’s husband at auction in the 1960s and hung in the south-facing dining room of her Chiswick home. The wallpaper panels are hand-painted onto a rare ‘chocolate’ coloured ground depicting flowering tree designs, in which sinuous trees are shown with their branches interspersed with birds and butterflies. Painted in the stylized manner characteristic of the Chinese tradition, each sheet is unique and would have formed part of a set of 25 or 40 lengths, sufficient to decorate a room.

Dame Merle Park’s imminent house move meant that these panels had to be removed in a day and the subsequent damage caused led to the funori consolidation treatment being developed. The humidification technique necessary for the safe removal of these panels damaged the water-soluble pigments causing a delamination of the paint layer from the brown background. This - coupled with prolonged storage - has produced a flaking paint layer where even the slightest movement creates more damage and loss.

It was decided to consolidate the paint layer and to reline the wallpaper because of its vulnerability. The extent of pigment loss on panel four meant that it was unusable for display but its acquisition as testing material was invaluable. The brown background pigment had become mottled and water stained and the friable paint layer more apparent when the wallpaper returned to the studio to dry out fully from its removal, something that in situ tests prior to humidification had not indicated. The area that required consolidation was large, each panel measuring 2150 x 1065 mms, and therefore it was decided that an overall application of two different percentages of funori solution through rayon paper was the best approach. This was followed by an immediate lining thereby reducing the need for a double treatment and handling.

Susan Catcher, Senior Paper Conservator, V&A

Susan Catcher initially qualified in textiles and used this specialism to work in Kenya as a VSO. Whilst living in a mud hut she studied for a B.A. in Art History with the Open University and on returning in 1998, she graduated from Camberwell College of Arts, London, with an M.A. in Conservation. After a period of freelance work she completed an internship in paper conservation at the Victoria and Albert Museum and never left. She is currently a Senior Paper Conservator in charge of loans with an interest in mixed media and specializing in Chinese Art. Susan is an accredited member of ICON.