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Antique art framing and restoration
December 31, There are many reasons for this uptick, April 30, In , the Louvre installed a unique design exhibition. Dozens of rolling Plexiglas and polished steel cubes housed individual pieces of furniture. The entryway to the foot tall exhibition space was dominated by a huge, three-dimensional logo spelling out a single word: Knoll.
The show was a The imaginary lines drawn by the eye between these points were utilized by contemporary artists to emphasize compositional lines in their paintings, as shown here.
The drama and opulence achieved by Baroque frames reflected the grandeur of seventeenth-century princely life, and the theatrical spirituality of the Church: they were also features of practical importance, sinc contemporary paintings needed strong settings with powerful sculptural forms to project and emphasize them against the splendours of the Baroque interior. The court of Louis XV saw the creation of extravagantly sculpted grande luxe frames, often costing as much as the painting. Italy, Britain, Scandinavia and Middle Europe were inspired to create their own Rococo fantasies, woven in airily sweeping curves which could bear the carved and gilded trophies of monarchs, military leaders, artists, children, society beauties or bishops.
Palladian and Roman frames provided a masculine, architectural alternative to Baroque and Rococo curves — particularly in Britain, where there were few, if any, complete Rococo interiors, and the taste for classical forms had never been entirely superseded. Kent, however, used it as part of a coherent interior, where for the first time architecture, fittings and furniture were designed as a single whole.
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The painting and its frame were completely integrated with the overall setting. Unlike the flattened cross-sections of cassetta and Palladian frames, however, it had a sculptural, Baroque profile of alternating hollow and convex mouldings. These could be plain or progressively enriched with carved architectural ornament.
The plainer forms were often used to frame the contents of an entire gallery, whilst the enriched versions, with up to five runs of decoration, created an opulent setting for the jewels of a collection. Both types were named after the artists on whose work they were most often found. These were also stimulated by reaction against the excesses of the Rococo, and by an upsurge of interest in classical excavations and the study of the antique.
These were also the first mass-produced frames, composition allowing labour-intensive carving to be replaced by moulded ornament. The frame — an object of art in its own right until the early nineteenth-century — became degraded into a badly made, banal setting for popular art, arbitrarily decorated and finished in cheap metallic leaf or gold paint. Both past patrons, who reframed for reasons of status and possession, and nineteenth-century collectors, whose wobbly aesthetics could not accommodate the drama of, for example, authentic Baroque frames, are responsible for the loss of so many original settings from Old Masters and for the need of new knowledge in this important area.
Few paintings have withstood the ravages of time in their original frames. Generally, the older the picture, the greater the probability that it will have been separated from its intended frame, and the divorce rate is highest amongst the Old Masters.
Countless frames have been needlessly discarded over the centuries, so that original examples are extremely scarce. In most cases they are statistically rarer than the pictures they once surrounded. This is particularly evident, say, with the Renaissance aedicular or tabernacle frames created for devotional works: when the latter were sold in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries, the naked paintings were sent on their way alone for ease of transport, whilst the frames, once empty, were not considered worth preserving.
Similarly, other large canvases would have been stripped from frames and stretchers, and rolled-up for removal to be reframed by their new owners. The scarcity of period frames today becomes ever greater and their value consequently higher as the guardians of public and private collections recognize the benefits of seeing their paintings in authentic settings. The majority of empty antique frames of quality are held in the stocks of a handful of specialist frame dealers in Europe and America. The inventory of Italian, Spanish, French, English, Netherlandish and German frames is unique for its breadth, variety and quality.
In order to provide examples of all the given permutations of nationality, period and style the stock needs to be of this scale and, as such, represents a formidable resource of antique frames. When to this is added the carving and gilding of reproductions referred to later , private, trade and institutional clients are provided with a fully comprehensive framing service.
Thus, having examined the needs of historical expertise and the availability of frames mentioned in the Introduction, we can see examples of how effectively both may be applied. A picture may be seen in different frames either by the use of computer-generated montages, or by physically standing the painting in successive frames, or both. For museum and privately owned pictures which cannot be brought physically to the frames, colour montages provide an excellent means of both recording and assessing the visual effects of differing frames.
Occasionally, full-size mounted and cut-out photographs of frames are sent for trial when it is impractical to ship the originals. The success of this process has been demonstrated for countless pictures over several decades, a recent example being the reframing of a seventeenth-century Velasquez workshop portrait of Marianne of Austria, Queen of Spain see figs A,B,C,D.
The frames proposed were first-class examples of contemporary prevailing patterns, any one of which may originally have been applicable, and this selection was supported by numerous photographic archive examples from public collections.
The choice, as in so many cases, was governed by the aesthetic relationship to the painting of the form, ornament and finish of each individual frame, as well as by the need to complement the frame styles on the other Spanish pictures in the gallery where this painting would hang. Frame A was selected. Since the antique frame was slightly smaller than the picture, rather than alter the original a hand-carved reproduction was made, and then water-gilded, aged and distressed to match the antique finish.
The framing proposals for this portrait could only reasonably be expected to be seventeenth-century Spanish frames. However, for Dutch artists of this period two very different frame styles were simultaneously in vogue. Contemporary collectors of paintings by seventeenth-century Dutch artists would generally have been offered two fundamentally different types of frame — a linear design of polished or veneered wood, or a carved and gilded French frame.
Pictures are more likely to be reframed when their owners change than at any other time. A painting may remain undisturbed for decades or even centuries until it reaches the art market, when cleaning and conservation are usually undertaken and the presentation is reassessed.
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The perpetually strong demand for Netherlandish art and its mobility, witnessed by lengthy provenances, have resulted in regular reframing. A good quality seventeenth- or eighteenth-century French or English frame retained on a Dutch painting may be regarded as a bonus. The purchaser of the painting, whether through a dealer or at auction, has the opportunity to make a definitive decision as to the frame, possibly in collaboration with the dealer, as illustrated here in the case of a fine Hobbema landscape.
Initially the three proposals were viewed as montages, and then again in situ. It was instructive to compare their respective aesthetic merits. In the ebony frame with ripple mouldings A , the colour scheme of the picture was intensified by the black surround; and the wave mouldings, reflecting the scale of detail in the picture, created a subtle and even flicker of light around the subject. The warm brown tones of the pearwood frame B modified this effect, being the complementary colour to the predominating greens of the landscape.
The finely-sculpted foliage and flowers on a cross-hatched ground are in tune with the scale and content of the picture and indicate the relative luxury of the intended setting.
Nineteenth-century European collectors tended to reframe their Old Masters in contemporary settings, which may have suited their purpose and the interiors where the paintings would hang, but are clearly anachronistic and out of context. The Van Dyck and studio portrait of Charles I, having long ago been separated from its original setting, had been fitted with a late nineteenth-century oil gilded oak moulding, which had all the appearance of a temporary travelling frame. Very few early seventeenth-century English frames have survived, and the owner was extremely fortunate to acquire this magnificent and exactly fitting example, with its laurel-leaf border and exuberantly carved openwork scrolling oak leaves.
The transformation, illustrated here, underlines how important the appropriate setting can be for a picture, especially for a state portrait. Our estimation of the value of a work of art is affected by its overall appearance far more than we realize. As we know, with countless consumer goods from scent to soft drinks, desirability is influenced by packaging. So too, for works of art. This truism is continually being demonstrated as paintings at auction or with dealers remain unsold due to mismatched or abysmally banal frames; on being reframed and allowed to perform at their best, these relics leap from the shelf into the arms of eager purchasers, their value enhanced manyfold.
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Works by modern masters present some of the most challenging of framing problems. Avant-garde painting styles developed faster than contemporary types of frame, with the result that late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century pictures often clashed with the mass-produced, brightly gilded historical-revival settings available at the time.
It is also generally acknowledged that the aesthetic values of the artists concerned have too often been compromised by the commercial demands of later reframing. Modern artists sought a return to basic principles, and in doing so compared themselves with the Old Masters, the diverse framing styles associated with whom often prove the most compatible and expressive for modern works.
The classical proportions, abstracted sculptural ornament and muted patina of Renaissance and Baroque frames possess a timeless quality, not necessarily related to a specific period of interior decoration. Used imaginatively, such frames can provide harmonious and exhilarating solutions to modern framing problems. Many French Impressionist and Post Impressionist works have been reframed by dealers and owners during the twentieth-century in period French frames. These often work well, but they can dominate the subject and lack individuality. The advantage of a very extensive stock of Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical Italian and Spanish frames is fully appreciated by clients who are effectively able to see their pictures in a new light in these settings.
The winning combination is as recognizable as love at first sight, and its suitability as self-evident. Ornament on the previous frame was fussy and superfluous, and the excessive area of gold diluted the red background. The stylized corner and centre leaf ornaments, scale and finish harmonize with the forms and palette of the image. The scarcity and value of antique frames are such that the demand for these settings must be satisfied to a large extent with reproductions. As with many products, these range from the tailor-made to the mass-produced, and inevitably often fail to do justice to the original model, frequently resulting in historically inaccurate pastiches.
Where availability, size, cost or all three forbid the use of antique frames, the ideal solution is to create as faithful a reproduction as possible.