Restoration of rare Japanese scroll unveiled

A rare early 18th century Japanese handscroll has been unveiled in Edinburgh Central Library following an intensive two-year restoration process.

Cllr Lewis and Dr Rosina Buckland

Created by Japanese artist Furuyama Moromasa, the 300-year-old painted scroll was found in the library’s Special Collections in 2012.

The artwork, entitled ‘Theatres of the East’, depicts a street scene in the theatre district of Edo, Tokyo, and was gifted to the Central Library in 1945 by the daughter of Henry Dyer, a Scottish engineer who played a major role in revolutionising the Japanese engineering education system.

Upon its discovery, the Edinburgh City Libraries team collaborated with National Museums Scotland to secure funding from the Sumitomo Foundation for the 300-year-old painted scroll’s restoration by the Restorient Studios specialists in Leiden, the Netherlands.

Conservation work, costing around £40,000, included relining the scroll and consolidating pigments to reduce the impact of ageing, as well as providing custom-made silk casing.

Councillor Richard Lewis, the city's Culture and Sport Convener, said: “It is fantastic to see the striking artwork by Furuyama Moromasa so beautifully restored, thanks to generous funding from The Sumitomo Foundation.

“It is also down to the enthusiasm of libraries staff, alongside National Museums Scotland’s curators, that this artwork has been rediscovered and given the attention it deserves.”

Dr Rosina Buckland, Senior Curator, National Museum of Scotland, said: “Edinburgh Central Library holds a rare and beautiful Japanese painting, created 300 years ago, presenting the theatre district of historic Tokyo (then known as Edo). 

“To ensure their preservation, East Asian paintings must undergo a complex process of remounting periodically. We are extremely grateful to the Sumitomo Foundation for generously funding this delicate and specialised conservation work, which will allow the painting to be put on display for the public's enjoyment.”

The scroll, thought to have been painted in the early 1700s, represents a major discovery in the ‘ukiyo-e’ school of art, and its detailed illustration of Japanese street life has provided a source of new information for scholars.

It has been agreed that following its restoration, the scroll will go on public display in the National Museum of Scotland’s new East Asia Gallery from 2018.

Images of the scroll before its restoration are currently available to view on the Capital Collections website.

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