“The Repair Shop” Restores a Portrait of Yukio Tani

A unique oil painting of former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani has been restored in commemoration of the London Budokwai’s centenary anniversary.

Tani was among the original group of three jiujitsuka who travelled from Japan to London in 1900, at the behest of Bartitsu Club founder Edward Barton-Wright. Although Kaneo Tani and Seizo Yamamoto only remained in England for a few months, Yukio – then aged nineteen – decided to remain in the English capital. There he was joined by Sadakazu Uyenishi, and the two young men served as unarmed combat instructors and challenge wrestlers on behalf of the Bartitsu Club until the Club dissolved in 1902. Thereafter, Tani joined forces with Taro Miyake in operating the Japanese School of Ju-jitsu and continued his successful challenge wrestling career.

In 1918, Tani became the first professional instructor at the newly-established London Budokwai. Founded by Gunji Koizumi, this was the first dojo in Europe to promote Kodokan judo, and Tani was accredited a nidan (second degree) black belt in that style by judo founder Jigoro Kano.

Sometime in the 1930s, Yukio Tani’s portrait was painted in oils by artist and judoka George Lambourne.  Tani would have been about fifty years old at the time.

Although the portrait has hung in a position of honour on the walls of the Budokwai for many decades, time has inevitably taken its toll. It was, therefore, recently taken to be restored via The Repair Shop – a workshop established by the BBC at the Weald and Downland Museum in Singleton, West Sussex, which is used as a location for the television show of the same name.

Budokwai chief instructor Peter Blewett and painting conservationist Lucia Scalisi unwrap the Tani portrait.
A full view of the portrait.
Lucia Scalisi examines Lambourne’s work for the first time.
A detail showing some of the dirt and paint damage accrued over the passage of many decades.
Tani’s black belt.
Peter Blewett leaves Scalisi to her work.
The painstaking task of conservation begins.
Experimental repairs to the flaking oil paint, believed to have been caused by a botched previous attempt at restoration.
A solvent cleaner was required to remove decades worth of grime from the portrait.
A layer of varnish is applied to the newly-cleaned surface.
Upon very close examination, Lucia Scalisi believes that an earlier draft of the portrait had shown Tani wearing round spectacles.
Areas where the original paint was missing are carefully filled in …
… and then retouched using acrylic paint, to ensure an effective colour-match with the original oils.
Finally, after many hours of skilled conservation, the fully restored portrait is returned to its place of honour in the London Budokwai.

The Tani portrait conservation is documented in The Repair Shop (season 3, episode 5), which is currently available here for viewers with access to the BBC iPlayer.

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