Alphonse Mucha’s Chinese embroidery

ZTC had the pleasure of working on a beautiful double sided polychrome silk embroidered Chinese wall hanging (86cm x 460cm) from Alphonse Mucha’s studio, which we conserved and provided a storage and traveling mount and box. As with the ecclesiastical banner from the same client, we know from a contemporary photograph of the artist’s studio that the Chinese wall hanging was used by the prolific artist for both inspiration and as backdrop to his work.

When it came to us, the textile was in a fragile condition with splitting silk ground fabric and loose gold embroidery threads. Heavy, applied mirror decorations were adding to the structural issues and much of the embroidery had been abraded and light damaged. Although originally double sided, due to the weak overall condition it was not possible to retain its double-sided nature post conservation as a full support was necessary. The side most recently used for display was again chosen to the ‘front’ due to the way the design read as well as its overall condition being slightly better.

There was quite a lot of work to do: first of all the very soiled, fragile silk tassel braid was solvent cleaned in situ. This involved a time consuming, delicate de-entangling of the fringe which once straight was carefully encased (temporarily) within a silk sandwich to protect it from further abrasion and damage whilst the conservation of the main embroidery was undertaken.

A full support of custom dyed Fuji silk was prepared and the panel was support stitched to it focusing on the areas of damage. The loose gold metal threads were reattached following the original stitching technique through the full support and then additional fixing lines were worked around the main motifs where necessary. An red wool edging strip not original to the piece was removed from the top border on the request of the client; it had looked out of place and added unnecessary weight to the fragile embroidery.

A new top border was created from an extension of the dyed support fabric and the hanging was given a light weight cotton lawn lining to protect the conservation stitching and to act as a dust barrier. Velcro carried on narrow soft webbing tape was used as the new hanging mechanism and attached along the top edge of the lining and new top border.

As the Mucha Foundation does not currently have a permanent home for its museum collection, items have to tour on exhibition if they are to be seen. One of our concerns with this immensely wide embroidery was that it would potentially become creased and damaged again through the handling necessary when packing and unpacking whilst the textile is on tour.

We therefore created a bespoke padded storage/handling board with a light weight, soft fabric covered wrapping layer to interleave with the padding was made to wrap and layer into the embroidered hanging to prevent further damage and creasing. Step by step photo instructions were provided to ensure that the main gold embroidered areas stay flat against the board, rather than bend around the sides of the mount. The padding layer prevents the relatively thick metal framed mirror decorations from leaving imprints on the delicate surface of the layered silk . The packing is also designed to prevent the tassel braid from creasing and entanglement. A storage box was made out of polycarbonate to protect and keep the packed textile upright.