t Sets. Stories behind the frames
By the Art Gallery of NSW
Art collectors once tended to be more concerned with a frame’s capacity to blend in with the furniture. However, today’s museum attitudes to framing favour authenticity, with the painting and its frame forming a harmonious marriage in the same historical style.
In the past, numerous paintings in the Art Gallery of NSW collection were removed from their original frames, with the result that many of the separated frames were destroyed. At present, the restoration of original frames, as well as the design and creation of appropriate reproduction frames, are major activities of the conservation department. A thorough investigation of the artist, the period and the artwork precedes each reframing project. Photographs from the Gallery’s archive are often of outstanding value for research.
Here are the stories behind just some of the Gallery’s frames.
AGNSW collection Louis Buvelot At Lilydale (1870) 244.1990
AGNSW collection Julian Ashton The prospector (1889) 4554
Due to age or damage, the Gallery may decide to make a new frame for important works such as this one. Using photographs dating from 1898–1901, our framers were able to create an historically accurate reproduction which was completed in 2017. They were also able to incorporate the original inner slip, the only part of the original frame that had survived undamaged. The moulding on the frame has an outer scotia (a concave profile) at the back edges, a plain torus (a large convex half-circle) of the top moulding, a plain astragal (a small torus), an inner slip with a bevel at the sight edge, all sand decorated. It has been oil-gilded with imitation gold leaf, then patinated.
AGNSW collection Rupert Bunny Summer time (circa 1907) 540
This frame is a mix of original and later additions. The inner part is original, likely brought out from France with the painting. An outer moulding was probably added prior to the exhibition at the Athenaeum Hall in Melbourne in 1928, from which the Gallery purchased the painting. An examination of wood samples that was made when the frame was restored in 1992 showed that the inner part was made of European pine; the outer from Californian redwood, commonly imported to Australia in the 1800–50s. The inner part shows other signs of being from France, with ornaments made of plaster in the French style, whereas those on the outer part are made from composition, a material distinctive on northern European and Australian frames.
AGNSW collection Rupert Bunny A summer morning (circa 1908) 666
This painting has a Louis XIV-revival-style frame, with corner-and-centre cartouches (oval or rectangular designs with ornamental scroll work). It is a French frame and dates to the 1910s, contemporary to the painting, and may be original. All the ornaments are made of plaster, common to French frame production of the period. They were gilded with imitation gold and brass leaf (
schlagmetal) using an oil-gilding technique. A major restoration of the frame was undertaken by the Gallery in 2009. Lost ornamentation was replaced and layers of dull brass-based overpainting (probably dating to the 1960s or 70s) were removed to reveal the original gilding, restoring the frame’s integrity to the painting.
AGNSW collection Maurice Felton Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark (1840) 117.1974
AGNSW collection E Phillips Fox Art students (1895) 7319
After the original frame for
Art students went missing years ago, it was replaced by an unsuitable modern frame. In 2002, an unusual decision was made to replace the frame with that from another Phillips Fox painting in the Gallery’s collection, Lady in black 1900. Phillips Fox painted Lady in black with unstable materials which had aged to the point where it was declared beyond restoration, never to be exhibited. Its frame had fared much better and it was decided to use it for Art students. The frame’s height was reduced and it was extensively restored. Though a difficult ethical decision, the ‘swapping’ allowed for the restoration and display of a beautiful and original frame.
AGNSW collection Elioth Gruner Spring frost (1919) 6925
This Louis XV-revival-style frame, with its elaborate corner and centre ornaments, is original to the painting and attributed to the SA Parker framing company in Sydney. Elioth Gruner was a regular client of the Parker workshop. The Gallery’s frame conservators undertook an extensive restoration treatment in the late 1990s. The cedar frame had been buried under heavy brass-based overpainting. This was removed to allow better definition of the pattern of the ornaments, but it was impossible to retain the original gilding, which was in imitation gold leaf (Dutch metal) using an oil-gilding technique. After the removal of layers of paint and the replacement of many missing ornament parts, the entire surface of the frame was re-gilded with gold leaf.
AGNSW collection George W Lambert Holiday in Essex (1910) 157.1981
This painting has a reproduction frame made by the Gallery in 2000. The design is based on the frame of Lambert’s
Lotty and the lady at the National Gallery of Victoria, which was considered to be both original and of an appropriate design. Since completion of the new frame, a photograph was discovered in the National Gallery of Victoria archives which shows Lotty and the lady in a more elaborate rococo-style frame. The frame style first chosen by the Gallery, however, appears on several Lambert paintings, and in most instances they appear to be original.
AGNSW collection Sydney Long By tranquil waters (1894) 689
This neoclassical-style frame, with its broad, fluted scotia and sand-decorated frieze, is original to the painting. It is believed to be a frame ordered from HW Callan by the Gallery in 1894, an order minuted in the trustees meeting of 26 September 1894. Henry W Callan was a ‘Fine Art Importer, Print Seller, Dealer in Works of Art and Picture Frame Manufacturer’ whose workshop was in Sydney’s George Street. Major restoration treatment undertaken in 2012 removed layers of extensive brass-based overpainting and degraded blackish varnishes, revealing well-preserved original gilding.
AGNSW collection Sydney Long Pan (1898) 9017
AGNSW collection Frederick McCubbin On the wallaby track (1896) 572
AGNSW collection Arthur Streeton Fire's on (1891) 832
AGNSW collection Arthur Streeton Villers-Bretonneux (1918) 538
AGNSW collection John Webber A view in Otaheite Peha (1785) 4.1976
AGNSW collection Anglo-Netherlandish workshop King Henry VIII (circa 1535-circa 1540) OB4.1962
During the Tudor era the frame was an integral part of the artwork. The oak frame was attached to the panel prior to preparation and painting. Unfortunately, few original frames survive on Tudor paintings. The reproduction frame on this painting was based on two surviving originals –
Portrait of Katherine of Aragon (Lambeth Palace collection, London) and a Portrait of Henry VIII (National Portrait Gallery, London). The outer moulding of the frame was painted with lampblack (a pigment made from soot) followed by a clear resin-based varnish, while the central inner frieze was decorated with imitation tortoiseshell, created with brushstrokes of smoky azurite applied over the red-ochre base and finished with a reddish oil-base coating.
AGNSW collection Sano di Pietro Madonna and Child with Saints Jerome, John the Baptist, Bernardino and Bartholomew (1450-1481) 151.1971
AGNSW collection Nicolò dell'Abate Portrait of a gentleman with a falcon (circa 1548-circa 1550) 167.1991
AGNSW collection Sir Joshua Reynolds James Maitland, 7th Earl of Lauderdale (1759-1760) 8.1977
This Roman neoclassical-style frame, known as a ‘Carlo Maratta’, is a British variant of the Italian ‘Salvator Rosa’ frame and was introduced to 18th-century Britain by collectors returning from the ‘Grand Tour’ in Europe. The Carlo Maratta became the most widely used picture frame in Britain from the mid to the end of 1700s, notably for portraits by leading painters Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. Without the complication of added corner ornaments, these frames were economical and could be bought ready-made or quickly made to measure. Here the basic format has been ornamented, notably with a band of acanthus leaves and shields.
AGNSW collection William Hogarth Dr Benjamin Hoadly MD (early 1740s) 8586
The most distinctively British frame is the ‘Kent’ frame. Named after the architect William Kent, its style relates intimately to Palladian architecture. The Kent frame is instantly recognisable by its classic form, with projecting square or ‘ear’ corners, raised inner and outer architectural mouldings with a flat main section decorated with sand or an architectural pattern, as well as pendant oak leaves and acorns on each side. It was the dominant style in Britain in the 1720s, but lasted well into neoclassicism later in the century. The present frame is contemporary to the painting but is not the original.
AGNSW collection William Henry Margetson The sea hath its pearls (1897) 705
AGNSW collection Ford Madox Brown Chaucer at the court of Edward III (1847-1851) 703
AGNSW collection Sir Edward John Poynter The visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon (1890) 898
This original frame, designed by Poynter himself, is a great example of the ‘aedicular’ or temple-like frame. Consisting of a pedestal, two pilasters at the sides, an entablature and a slip, the frame plays an essential role in the overall conception of this work. While a number of decorative motifs in the architectural background of the painting are repeated in the frame, the overall architectural theme is the most prominent. The frame was gilded with gold leaf using two techniques: oil-gilding for the ornamented parts and matte water-gilding for the flat surfaces.
AGNSW collection Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema Cleopatra (1875) 657
AGNSW collection George Frederic Watts Alice (1883) 984
AGNSW collection Frank William Bourdillon On Bideford Sands (1889) 726
AGNSW collection Nasreddine Dinet The snake charmer (1889) 799
AGNSW collection Richard Wilson St Peter's and the Vatican from the Janiculum, Rome (1757-1764) 25.1971
AGNSW collection Camille Pissarro Peasants' houses, Eragny (1887) 6326
AGNSW collection Frank Hinder Tram kaleidoscope (1948) 195.2013
This plain modern frame with its masonite outer moulding, was made by the artist. This was not unusual for modernists such as Frank Hinder, who sought the harmonious integration of all the elements that make up a work of art. Hinder certainly had the skills to make the right frames for his paintings, with a diversified practice that included theatre design, commercial art, teaching and assisting his wife Margel Hinder with her large sculpture commissions. At one point the original cream-coloured paint was painted over with a greyish paint, since removed by the Gallery’s frame conservators.