"Frames have a lot of power to influence our appreciation and interpretation of a painting," says Eli Wilner, founder of Eli Wilner & Company, a New York-based gallery responsible for frames found in homes across the world, as well as at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the White House. But before selecting a frame, you need to make sure it's the right one.
Most essential, according to Wilner, is historical accuracy. "A frame should reflect the period of the painting," he says. "I want to imagine that I'm the artist. I've just completed the painting and gone to my favorite framer. How would the artist approach the design? That's how I make every decision, whether it's for Rembrandt or Corot or John Singer Sargent." Also important: does the style of frame complement the painting itself? "Aesthetic consideration is crucial. After I narrow it down to the type of frame an artist would use, I look at the scale, decorative elements, and color that enhance a particular artwork."
To illustrate what you should keep in mind the next time you're ready to frame, here are Wilner’s thoughts on how to pair an appropriate frame with a few examples of 19th Century European art.
|Figure 1 - |
"The Tambourine Girl,"
John William Godward
"I do not know a single major painter who did not spend a significant amount of time thinking about his frames. Even van Gogh, who had no money, made his own frames and painted them to match the piece inside. Godward (figure 1) saw himself as a Renaissance painter and in that style and tradition, wanted to create the same feeling of importance and religious experience that he saw in church altarpieces traveling throughout Rome and Florence. Since that was his design, that is the only way a Godward can really be appreciated. If you put his painting in a lesser, simpler frame, the work loses the true, holistic meaning that Godward meant to convey."
|Figure 2 -|
"Priaries Inondées Vue a Travers la Feuillee,"
"Although I usually frame as if I were the artist, 10% of the time I frame as if I were the collector. I occasionally like to throw a curveball. Corot mostly used fluted, quiet 19th-century frames, but the more elaborate 18th-century approach (figure 2) is very popular and how you'll see Corot framed in many museums and private homes. The soft carving in the frame works very well with the composition."
|Figure 3 - |
"Marchande de Fleurs à Londres,"
"There's no general rule when it comes to scale except that you should avoid over-framing and under-framing. Everything else depends on the aesthetics of the individual artwork. Here is a portrait of a modest flower-seller in late 19th-century London (figure 3), so I felt the frame needed to be restrained. A thinner frame would have looked too slight on the large canvas, while a thicker one would have been too grand for the subject. It's all about balance. When you put a sculpture on a pedestal, the same considerations have to be met. Ask yourself: Is the frame too wide, too delicate, too overpowering, or just right for the piece?"
|Figure 4 - |
"Marchand Ambulant au Caire,"
"Because of its exotic subject matter, I chose an Orientalist frame for Gérôme’s painting (figure 4). The decorative marks, similar to what you'd see in the Middle Eastern wing at the Met or at the Alhambra Palace in Spain, puts you into the mindset that you're in the Middle East. Yes, a 19th-century French frame would technically work. But this frame changes your perception and shows the context that a frame can bring to a work of art."
|Figure 5 - |
"La Marchande de Fleurs - Rue de Rivoli,"
Louis Marie de Schryver
"This is a very pretty and charming picture (figure 5), so I picked a bright gold frame to echo the happiness of the scene. I wanted to turn up the dial on the beauty of the flowers and patterned fabrics by making the frame as opulent as I could without going overboard. Again, you have to let the painting speak."
Images: Courtesy of Sotheby's. Images of Frames: Courtesy of Eli Wilner & Company NYC