Art restorer uses science to resurrect paintings

by Shinichi Tokuda

Kyodo

For more than 40 years, Emile Yoshimura has brought more than 10,000 old damaged paintings back to life, including some by eminent artists dating back 200 to 300 years.

Most of the paintings he deals with are oil paintings on canvas, which can crack if left in a frame for long periods. Dirt can also become stiff and hard to remove, or the canvas can get torn or become brittle.

In the first stage of restoration, Yoshimura, 64, cleans the painting by removing the dirt on its surface, which he said is the most difficult part of his work.

“We have to be careful not to damage the painting and carefully choose the best cleaning solvent that removes only dirt,” he said.

For the next step, Yoshimura mixes pieces that have fallen off the painting with a solvent in a test tube, or sometimes uses special equipment to detect what kinds of paints were originally used to find the optimal way to restore it.

“It’s important to study science, not just drawing,” he said.

As one of only a small number of art restorers in Japan, Yoshimura has restored paintings by famous artists, including more than 100 by Taro Okamoto (1911-1996), one of the painters he most admires.

Yoshimura led a team of five restorers to work on Okamoto’s masterpiece “Myth of Tomorrow.” The 5.5-meter by 30-meter mural is on a wall in JR Shibuya Station in Tokyo.

Yoshimura’s father was a painter, thus giving him a familiarity with paintings since childhood.

Because Yoshimura also enjoys studying science, he chose to become an art restorer after graduating from high school.

“Passing down great, evocative paintings over generations is something worth living for,” he said.