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Restoration of a rare Chinese fan from the State Hermitage collection

Fan. China. 1840s. Leaf: paper, silver, distemper paints; Guards: carved mother-of-pearl. Length: circa 28 cm

This double-sided fan was made using a variety of materials and techniques in Guangzhou (Canton) in the 1840s. On the one side the leaf is decorated with three cartouches containing figures in a landscape, while the ground around them is filled with depictions of bats, goldfish and three-legged toads. The figures were made in the appliqué technique: their clothing is made up of coloured silk brocade, while their faces are miniature painted sheets of ivory. On the other side, distemper paints have been used to produce a composition in the “flowers and birds” genre: a pair of little brown birds perched on clusters of sumptuous blooms. The guards and sticks of the fan were carved from sheets of white iridescent mother-of-pearl decorated with low relief and engraved on both sides with scenes of figures in a landscape with buildings and trees.

From the 17th century onwards, fans were a very popular Chinese export item. Due to fashion as well as their practical purpose, they were actively used, resulting in various degrees of damage.

The present fan has suffered serious damage: the mother-of-pearl guards have separated from the leaf; individual elements of them have split or been lost; cracks have formed at the folds of the pleated leaf; the parts of the paper carrying the painting that attached to the guards at the edges were badly worn with significant loses of the support and the paint layer.

  • General appearance before restoration
  • Close-up view before restoration
  • Close-up view after restoration
  • General appearance after restoration
  • General appearance after restoration
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The long process of restoring this rare Chinese fan was completed in 2018.

The first stage was to study the object and to prepare restoration documentation. In the course of restoration, the following tasks were carried out:

  • photographic recording of the item, before during and after restoration
  • study of the paint layer and paper using a Leica microscope
  • cleaning of the painting and mother-of-pearl on both sides
  • reinforcement of the paint layer
  • detachment of the damaged guards and sticks from the leaf
  • pasting the tears and cracks in the paper
  • filling the lost areas
  • tinting the damaged areas of the paint layer
  • repairing the monture (guards and sticks), joining the broken sections, making good lost elements and the engraving of the design
  • reuniting the leaf and monture
  • creation of a storage box for the fan from acid-free cardboard.

The results of the restoration were published in the State Hermitage’s annual publication Masterpieces Reborn. Restoration in the Hermitage 2018 and also presented at the international conference on “The Art of Restoration” held at the Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Storage Centre on 15–18 May 2019.

A working group of Hermitage staff members was formed for the restoration of the fan.

Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Oriental Painting:

Yelena Shishkova (head)
 Yelizaveta Krylova, Varvara Rumiantseva, Maxim Korotkov (artist-restorers) 

Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Furniture:

Andrei Koshcheyev (artist-restorer)

Department of the East:

Maria Menshikova (keeper, senior researcher)

Editorial and Publishing Department:

Konstantin Siniavsky (photographer)

The project participants wish to express their sincere gratitude to the staff of the Hermitage Friends’ office for their invaluable assistance and  the individual members of the Hermitage Friends’ Club for the financial support of the complex restoration of the fan.

The project was carried out with the support of individual members of the Hermitage Friends’ Club.