ANALYZING CONTEXT ALLOWS YOU TO UNDERSTAND THAT A FRAME SERVES A FAR GREATER ROLE THAN PROTECTIVE SHELTER
By Desiree Pakravan
Selecting a frame for a work of art can be a daunting task. Options can seem practically endless and collectors must decide whether to choose a frame that is aesthetically pleasing, historically accurate or minimalistic so that one’s attention is drawn to the painting itself.
The role of a frame is extremely significant; they protect a work, draw attention to a composition’s colors and patterns, complement an artwork to its setting, and shape a viewer’s emotional response. Frames serve as a window to another world, producing trompe l’oeil effects, and since a work of art and its frame are always viewed together as a unified whole, their relationship should always be complementary and harmonious.
There are many factors when it comes to choosing the right frame. From framing prints and multiples to oil paintings, photographs or works on paper, it is important to take into consideration color and material, period and location … as well as personal preference.
COLOR AND MATERIAL
Prints and multiples have become an increasingly popular medium due to affordability and attainability. However, they are usually made available to buyers unframed. For colored and vibrant prints, consider a simple frame to heighten the colors. Photographs should be treated the same way: Black and white photographs and prints should be matted within a minimal black or white frame, allowing for the work to fully stand out. Recently, collectors have begun displaying their prints within floating frames to allow for three-dimensionality and depth.
Similarly to prints and photographs, works on paper such as drawings and illustrations should be accompanied by a frame that allows for the work to not be overpowered. Since these are made with more delicate mediums like pencil, pastel or charcoal, it is important to choose the right frame and glass that will not cause damage to the composition. Usually made on fragile paper, matting could be helpful in preserving the works’ integrity. Matting allows for space between the work and glass, causing it to stay intact longer.
When framing paintings, consider factors such as the exact medium, the color of the paint and its size. Oil and acrylic paint dry through oxidization, the reaction between air and oxygen, causing the paint to harden. A glass surface is not necessary for many oil paintings so that the paint can continue to breathe. When selecting a frame for a contemporary oil painting, keep in mind that an artwork should complement its frame from a visual point of view rather than distract.
A recent example of a well-executed framed print that sold at Heritage Auctions is Roy Lichtenstein’s Crying Girl, which sold for $60,000 in April 2019. This lithograph is vibrant, dynamic and bold, calling for a subtle frame. The collector chose a black floating frame to draw attention to the work itself while also creating a sense of three-dimensional depth. This illusion plays with one’s perspective of the work, with the frame heightening this effect.
Having knowledge of an artwork’s past and understanding historical context can be helpful when choosing the right frame. Researching the work’s time period and region is just as important as recognizing the materials used in the fabrication. The historical significance of a work plays an important role when determining which frame to choose, especially with Old Master works that may already come with original frames, but need restoration.
Between the 15th and 18th centuries, frames evolved to be more intricate and elaborate to represent the aesthetics of the Baroque and Neoclassical movements. This period was notable for their beautifully carved and gilded frames with rich ornate patterns, reflective of an era in which they were intimately tied to their architectural setting. Architectural design heavily influenced the workshop practice of determining the frame’s characteristics of a specific region.
A significant example is Botticelli’s The Last Communion of Saint Jerome, painted in the 15th century. Painted for the Florentine wool merchant Francesco del Pugliese, this period frame style was developed over the course of the 15th and 16th centuries and derived from architectural settings like windows and wall surroundings. Adorned with water-leaf motifs and pearl-and-rosette patterning, the frame references the Byzantine tradition of early Italian art and exemplifies the importance of historical authenticity in keeping the composition relevant to era and region.
ARE FRAMES ALWAYS NECESSARY?
In some modern cases, a frame can distract from the work. Many 20th and 21st century solid canvas paintings do not require frames as they tend to have enough depth and solidity to be secured on a wall alone. This, however, does not apply to prints or works on paper since they are more fragile and require additional protection.
For example, an abstract oil painting on canvas usually does not require a frame; its vibrant colors, spontaneous brushwork and the canvas’ depth can serve as its own border. Because of the durability of oil-based paintings, these works often have a longer life and can be displayed safely without a frame. However, if a frame is preferred, a minimal black, white or neutral tone would best suit a contemporary painting. Take into consideration choosing a frame that does not overpower the artwork, but instead enhances the features of the painting.
Willem de Kooning’s East Hampton II, which recently sold for $802,000 at Heritage Auctions, is a great example of a 20th century abstract painting that does not necessarily require a frame, but is effectively mounted within a simple setting that is appropriate for the work’s size, color and period. The painting’s vivid intensity, contrasting effects of color and Expressionist technique containing a blend of figuration and abstraction, calls for a frame that is subtle, minimal and refined, to not only reflect its modern era but to heighten the composition’s vitality.
Through researching and understanding a work’s history, material and environment, you can better determine whether a work of art designates an appropriate frame or can be exposed independently. Whether you are an art connoisseur or novice collector, analyzing the context allows you to understand that the frame as an object serves a far greater role than a protective shelter or a requirement for a work to remain finished. Frames play a crucial part in molding a viewer’s experience and are often necessary, acting as a liaison between an interior setting and another world, for at their best, they are a truly a work of art themselves.
DESIREE PAKRAVAN is a junior specialist in the Fine & Decorative Arts department at Heritage Auctions in Beverly Hills, Calif.
This article appears in the Winter 2019-2020 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.