The current trend is to leave artworks unframed. Our art expert Anthony Smith takes a different view
Expert Anthony Smith on whether to frame or not
IS there another aspect of a painting, apart from the work itself, that really displays the taste of the owner other than framing?
It’s been one of my long-held beliefs that if the painting is strong enough (demands attention due to its quality) really, it is almost impossible to over-frame, to put too large a frame on, but it is possible to make a bad framing choice.
A frame is like clothing: without it, a painting just doesn’t seem ‘dressed’ or complete. This goes against a current trend of not framing any painting, be it contemporary or even antique. Recently I saw some 18th century oils, unframed and just resting against a wall. It was the look the owner was after – casual chic – but there are issues with this that go beyond fashion.
In fact a frame is as much to safeguard an artwork, to ensure that it isn’t damaged either in transporting the work or when it is hung (or falls!), as it is to enhancing the work.
Paintings are fragile and easily damaged, even if just resting against a wall. A simple knock caused by someone walking past or from vacuuming or sweeping is all that’s needed to potentially cause aesthetically and financially damaging repairs.
Of course, all works on paper should be framed and ideally put under glass. This is particularly important for watercolours as they are vulnerable to even the smallest amount of damage, accidental or even climatic. Often one is given a choice between Perspex or glass when framing works on paper. I tend to go for glass. It appears clearer and is, in my opinion, more aesthetically appealing.
Another reason for framing is that it can give a painting presence, more importance in a room. In fact, even a lesser work can be elevated by it being framed in a complementary frame, one that enhances and adds to the work.
Frame styles are as varied as one could possibly imagine. I remember having a conversation with a collector of Australian aboriginal art who had always thought that a frame was unnecessary. Yet after we had one done for him in a simple, shadow (box) frame, he then framed his whole collection in a similar manner and it does look more prestigious as well as looking more established.
I am always on the lookout for interesting frames and have admired the bespoke framing that Mark Ryden, a contemporary American painter, has on his works. Each is individually made to suit the painting and adds so much to the works. It took me some years to track down his frame maker, but now that I have, they produce individual frames to match any work reminding me of a time, long ago, when the frame was as important and as costly as the painting it housed.
But, for the majority of the time, it is unnecessary to go to this extent or expenditure to really enhance and add prestige to our artworks. We have some very good framers here in Norfolk who are well versed in advising clients on what may best suit a piece. Sometimes their ideas are more enlightened and better options than our own; well, at least mine.
I remember at the Bruer Tidman exhibition at Fairhurst Gallery, they had opted to place one of Bruer’s contemporary works in an 18th century frame. It was simply perfect, but who would have thought so?
So please, do consider framing as a means to complete a painting and also to enhance both its aesthetic and often financial value too. But be a bit bold – it may be an unexpected success!
Above and top: Framing can enhance any artwork