Picasso’s 347 Suite

Conservation mounting

Christina Angelo, Conservation Mounter of Western Art on Paper, British Museum

When the Museum receives new acquisitions to its collection of prints and drawings, either through gifts or purchased through special funds, it is of the upmost importance that they are cared for appropriately for future generations to enjoy. This is why my role as a conservation mounter is so vital. I’m one of three British Museum conservation mounters who specialise in western art on paper. Mounting enables prints and drawings to be handled safely by staff, and visitors to the Prints and Drawings Study Room, without risk of damage to the objects. It also facilitates the option to frame if another institution requests to borrow an object as part of our on-going exhibition programme. All the mounts are made of the highest museum-quality mount board and all the materials we use are tested by our department’s scientists to ensure they won’t damage the artwork over time. In order to maximise space for storing this huge collection of prints and drawings, standard size mounts are used which are then stored in Solander boxes in the Study Room.
Over the years I’ve seen and mounted some of the most interesting and outstanding works of art in our collection, from Leonardo da Vinci to Tracey Emin, and this year is no exception. Over the last few months I’ve been very privileged to have been part of the team involved in the mounting of Picasso’s 347 Suite, aptly named because there are 347 prints. This important collection was funded by generous donor Hamish Parker, and in the autumn 2015 edition of the British Museum Magazine, Stephen Coppel, Curator of the Modern Collection, explained the fascinating story of how they were produced.

With so many prints requiring mounting, the new studios in the World Conservation and Exhibition Centre (WCEC) have come into their own. It makes my job so much easier using the specially designed space and new equipment we now have. Initially Stephen Coppel and I discussed the mounting of the Picasso prints. Once we agreed on a plan it was full steam ahead for the team. After the prints were measured the mount board was cut to the standard sizes on the board chopper.

Every print’s platemark was measured carefully as they all varied in size in

Finally to give the mounts their unique British Museum touch, Picasso’s name and the print’s identifying number were stamped on the front of each mount using our handheld typeset tools and etching ink which have been standard practice at the museum since the 19th century.preparation for cutting the mount’s apertures on our new computerised electronic mount cutter, before the mounts were assembled together.

The prints were now ready to be secured into their mounts using handmade Japanese paper, which we use for its longevity and fibre strength, and a fine layer of water soluble adhesive that can be easily removed by conservators if necessary in the future.

To give the prints added protection whilst inside their Solander boxes, a sheet of polyester was hinged inside the mount which covers the front of the print.

After several months the project is now complete. I will miss the prints as they have been a talking point with our numerous visitors and museum professionals who come to the studio to see the work we do. The prints are safely stored in their Solander boxes in the Study Room waiting for researchers to view them, and to mark the completion of this successful team effort, from both curators and conservation staff, we all had a celebratory drink to honour the occasion.

The Western Art on Paper team use a variety of techniques to conserve the Prints and Drawings collection as well as papyrus, photographs, banknotes, paper archives. The team includes dedicated conservation mounters, who provide specialist housing for the objects. Our prints and drawings collection has about 50,000 drawings and over 2 million prints, so it takes a lot of work to keep the collection in good condition.