Posts Tagged 'frames'

When the Painting Meets the Frame

The centerpiece of Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow is her Highland Lighthouse series. Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe painted seven variations of the lighthouse in the early 1930s, using mostly related color palettes and experimenting with dynamic symmetry. The first, a realistic representation, is now lost, but the following six lighthouses she painted are all reunited here at the DMA in one room.

Five of the paintings have a “clam shell” frame. The sides of a clam shell frame slope inward toward the painting. Each side is half of an arch that peaks at the inner edge where the frame meets the canvas. These frames were all made by painter and frame maker George F. Of, who worked closely with Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery. Thus, it is through her relationship with her sister Georgia and her brother-in-law Alfred Stieglitz that Ida came to know Of during the early years of her career.

Ida’s paintings are not the only example of close working relationships between artists and frame makers on view at the DMA. Artists often worked closely with particular frame makers and some were known to prefer certain styles of frames.

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Maurice Prendergast, Merry-Go-Round, c. 1902-06, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

On view in An Enduring Legacy, Maurice Prendergast’s painting Merry-Go-Round is in a frame that was probably not made by his brother Charles. Many other artists of his time mechanically reproduced patterns for their frames, but Charles designed and hand carved his frames. He considered himself an artist too. If he made a frame for Merry-Go-Round, it was long gone when it entered the McDermott’s collection. Margaret McDermott chose this frame to accentuate the style of the painting.

prendergast detail

The frame has both an inner and outer edge of roughly carved wood in ropelike patterns. Between these layers is an expanse of unvarnished wood with groups of scratches perpendicular to the painting’s edges. The unfinished quality of the wood frame complements the blank canvas that is visible throughout the painting where colors meet.

George Bellows’s portrait of his wife, Emma in a Purple Dress, is in a “Bellows frame.” Bellows favored frames by the New York frame maker M. Grieve Company. This particular water-gilded gold frame has three thin, curved ridges descending toward the painting within a squared outer frame. Its back is stamped with “Grieves Co.” The gilded, textured surface of the frame emphasizes the shining fabric of the sitter’s dress.

Reviews of Ida O’Keeffe’s New York shows sometimes mention her tendency to decorate her own frames, though few of them survive today. Ida most likely didn’t make the frame for Star Gazing in Texas, but she did decorate its upper molding with star-shaped foil stickers and five-point stars cut from tin.

These stars on the frame make it part of the composition. The title, Star Gazing in Texas, reinforces the relationship between painting and frame. During Ida’s lifetime, the painting was exhibited under several other titles—Dreaming in Moonlight; Spring Lethargy, Texas; and, possibly, Texas Hillbillies. The DMA’s Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art, Sue Canterbury, chose the title Star Gazing in Texas, which Ida used in an inventory of her paintings, because it captured the interconnectivity of the painting to its frame. The star-gazing woman looks outside her painted environment, making the frame part of her world as well as part of ours.

Rebecca Singerman is the McDermott Graduate Intern for American Art at the DMA.

Mind’s Eye from a Different Frame of Reference

You still have time to come to the Dallas Museum of Art to visit the exhibition Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne before it closes on October 26. The show is a rare opportunity to see exceptional drawings, pastels, and watercolors by many of the most acclaimed European artists in the Museum’s collection, as well as some from many local private collections.  Linger in a gallery and closely study exquisite works by Renoir, Gérôme, Pissarro, Bonnard, and Mondrian. Then, before moving into the next room, step back a bit to view the broad array of frames that surround these fabulous artworks. The various shapes, designs, and colors add a pleasant texture to the walls and bring an unmatched intimacy to the overall experience.

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Consider the fantastic tabernacle frame surrounding Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret’s little gem Portrait of Gustave Courtois. With its liner plinth (or base), columns topped with Corinthian capitals, and crowning entablature, it’s easy to see that this sort of frame employs a structure and ornamentation inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The intricate gold ornamental foliage patterns coursing over the narrow, flat groves of dark green couple with rich gilding to elevate the mystery of the distinguished sitter, who was a fellow artist.

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Nearby is Théodule Ribot’s Head of an Old Man with Beard and Cap. This little drawing from the DMA’s collection was in storage unframed, but we did not need to go any further than our own Reves Collection to find something perfect. Based on 17th-century Dutch frames with waffle or ripple style moldings that were darkly painted to simulate ebony, this frame is enhanced throughout by long passages of inlaid tortoise shell. Then, to bring perfect harmony to drawing and frame, we added a custom-designed mat embellished with strands of pale blue, silver, and brown marbling that echoes the frame’s tortoiseshell.
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Like museums, artists were often quite particular about their frames. For example, Edgar Degas most likely designed the frame on his drawing After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself. This frame has the hallmarks of his most inventive design, which includes a soft overall gilding over a lightly rounded profile, enhanced with rows of thin parallel grooves. Degas called this frame a “cockscomb” or “cushion” pattern. The frames’ characteristic gentle curves subtly reinforce the arc in the nude’s back, as well as the fleshiness of her torso, buttocks, and arms.

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Even simpler than Degas’s frame is the one that Swiss artist Ernest Biéler designed for his L’épine-vinette. He polished the wood (oak) to bring out its subtle grain, allowing it to serve as a backdrop to the small strips of wood that step down at the sight edge, drawing our eyes toward the lovely portrait. Biéler followed a similar design scheme when made the frame for his Self-Portrait, which hangs to the left. Thus we see both of these works just as he intended.
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In the last room of the exhibition, you will find a fantastic frame on Pablo Picasso’s Still Life with Glass and Bowl. Although probably not designed by Picasso, its strong linear features and curvilinear gold leaf embellishments mirror those same aspects in the master’s drawing.

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If you are not ready to explore the rest of the Museum, return to the first Mind’s Eye gallery for a look at the one-of-a-kind mat surrounding Hubert Robert’s View of the Gardens at the Villa Mattei. The cartouche bearing the artist’s name is a work of art itself.

Martha MacLeod is the Curatorial Administrative Assistant for the European and American Art Department at the DMA.

Picture This – Part Deux

Over a year ago, the Dallas Museum of Art sent  College of Animals by Cornelis Saftleven (1607-1681) to a conservator for cleaning and minor repair. With the grime removed from the Dutch artist’s enigmatic composition, it was the perfect time to do a bit more. So we replaced the thin, unadorned gilt frame that formerly surrounded the canvas with one more in keeping with the sort preferred by Dutch artists working during Saftleven’s time. Seventeenth-century Netherlandish artists typically favored a waffle or ripple style molding frame. These darkly painted wooden frames that simulated ebony are decorated with several rows carved in a zigzag design, and often have a reverse ogee profile.  A few months ago, the DMA purchased a period Dutch frame that has all of these design elements from a Parisian dealer. Now that Saftleven’s College of Animals is back from the conservator and has an appropriate frame, it is once again on view in the European galleries for everyone to enjoy!

The simple gilt frame that formerly surrounded Cornelis Saftleven’s “College of Animals,” n.d., oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Karl and Esther Hoblitzelle Collection, gift of the Hoblitzelle Foundation, 1987.32

Cornelis Saftleven, College of Animals with its period seventeenth-century waffle-style Dutch frame.

Detail of College of Animals’ new frame

Martha MacLeod is the Curatorial Administrative Assistant to the European and American Art departments.

Picture This

For many artists a picture was not finished when the paint had dried and the varnish was applied. The culminating step was framing the artwork. Only then was the project complete. Traditionally the artist had many options. He could choose a stock frame from a local cabinetmaker, or make a thoughtful selection from a skilled framer. Artists often possessed such a keen interest to frame a painting in a manner that perfectly complemented it that they designed their own.

The 18th-century British portrait painter George Romney (1734-1802) routinely joined forces with his preferred London framer William Saunders to produce frames of the artist’s design. Frame historians have studied Saunders’ detailed ledgers that record many of these collaborations. Romney’s decorative concepts coupled with Saunders carving expertise resulted in several exquisite frames. Regrettably, as a painting changed hands the new owner would often reframe it to suit prevailing tastes or to match the room where the artwork hung.

This may have been the fate of the original frame that once surrounded Romney’s Young Man with a Flute, which is now on view in the DMA’s European Galleries. Until recently, a simple wooden frame adorned with a gilt sight edge (the part of the frame closest to the canvas) surrounded the painting. That frame was more in keeping with the sparse ones typically used by artists working in colonial America.

George Romney, Young Man with a Flute, late 1760s in its simple wooden frame

Wishing to restore the painting to Romney’s well-documented vision for his completed works, the Museum recently purchased a frame from a London dealer with an expertise in the artist’s designs. Now a “Romney Style” frame surrounds the painting. It is a faithful reproduction of the artist’s 18th-century original. The archetype became synonymous with the painter thus earning its eponymous name.

Young Man with a Flute surrounded by its “Romney Style” frame

The approximately four-inch-wide burnished gilt neoclassical frame draws the viewer’s eye into the portrait. Its decorative elements include a rope-twist back molding, superbly carved gadrooning that traverses the circumference on the outside rim, a plain frieze, a small bead course, and a delicately reeded sight edge. The reproduction “Romney Style” frame harmonizes with the painting in a manner unrivaled by its wooden unornamented predecessor.

Compared to Romney, there are scant extant records of the frame choices made by the 19th-century artist Paul Signac (1863-1935). Last year, when the DMA acquired the French artist’s Comblat-le-Château, Le pré, it had a Régence Style frame that was popular very early in the 18th century.

Second from the right, Paul Signac’s Comblat-le-Château, Le Pré in its Régence style frame.

Its decorative components included a course of cross-hatching and punch work covering the entire frame. A fussy pattern of shells, fans, palmettes, C-scrolls, and foliage ornamented the center rails and corners, while a linen liner at the sight edge completed the overall design scheme. Although a lovely frame, it is not the prototypical choice made by a post-impressionist artist who worked in the wake of the pioneering painter Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Not only was Degas enormously influential to art history but he also revolutionized frame design. In fact, he believed that it was an artist’s duty to see his pictures properly framed. Earlier this year, the DMA heeded Degas’s mandate and purchased a new frame for its Signac.

Comblat-le-Château, Le Pré with its Degas style frame.

The picture’s new frame is a reproduction based on one of Degas’s most inventive designs. It features a lightly rounded profile embellished with rows of thin parallel grooves. The frame’s roundedness and fine fluting echo Degas’s “cockscomb” pattern, which he softly gilded but rarely burnished. Because of its shape, some call this format a “cushion” molding. The frame’s innovative streamlined repetitive forms do not compete with Signac’s lovely painting; rather their simplicity harmonizes with the picture to enhance it. While these before-and-after photographs illustrate the difference a frame can make, they pale when compared to seeing firsthand each striking painting now with its stylistically appropriate frame. On your next visit to the DMA, come view these superb frames and the paintings they surround.

Martha MacLeod is the Curatorial Administrative Assistant in the European and American Art Department at the Dallas Museum of Art.


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