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Picture Framing

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Qualities Of Good Picture Framing

Three qualities are essential for good picture framing; taste, proportion
and craftsmanship in that order. In framing, it is difficult to err on the
side of simplicity.

Advantage should be taken of good tradition, but the needs of modern living
must be kept in mind. The artist and craftsman should not be swayed by
"fads" in framing such as covering a Victorian atrocity with whitewash and
calling it "smart".

The three requisites mentioned above can only be developed with time and
through experience. However, if sufficient study is given to the picture
before it is framed, errors will be reduced and better frames will result.
Before either making or finishing the frame it should be remembered that the
proportions, that is, the width and depth or "profile" of the molding is of
more importance than the finish.

It is much easier to commit the fault of "over-framing" a picture than it is
to make the frame too plain or narrow.

The following general rule should always be borne in mind: The more elaborate,
colorful or detailed the picture, the simpler should be the frame and vice

A monotonous effect can be avoided easily by giving the frame an interesting
textural finish or by decorating it with a continuous line of geometrical

These should be based on the seven primary forms so well outlined in the book
'A Method for Creative Design' by Adolfo Best-Maugard.

Applied singly or in combination, along the outside, the inside, on the face
or a raised portion of the molding, the decoration will be unobtrusive and
yet provide interest. The combinations of carving, texture and color are
almost endless, therefore no picture need be without its individual, perfect

Ideas On framing Different Types Of Art

A few words on present day, conventional picture framing might be in order,
but just a few. Extended discussion of contemporary methods of framing would
be wasted; styles and fashions in frames will undoubtedly change in a
relatively short time.

Therefore, the following are only general indications of how pictures in
various mediums are ordinarily framed at the present time.

Original prints in black and white such as etchings, lithographs, etc.,
are usually matted in white, off-white or cream mats and framed with glass
in very narrow Moldings of natural wood or black. A narrow gold line is
sometimes added to relieve the severity of the black frame.

Original color prints, as distinguished from reproductions, such as color
wood blocks, colored etchings or lithographs and serigraphs are also matted
and then framed in narrow Moldings with glass. More latitude in the use of
color in both mats and frames for this type of picture is becoming increasingly

Watercolors are usually put in proportionately larger mats and the frames
are somewhat wider. Glass is always used with watercolors. Frames for them
are still being made in simple, natural wood or painted finishes, but with
the tendency to give the medium the importance it deserves, they are often
as heavy, decorated and textured as are those for oil paintings.

The frames for pastels are similar to the ones used for watercolors, except
that they are matted only when necessary. Glass is always used, as is a
concealed insert to separate the picture from contact with the glass surface.

Oil paintings are framed closely except for the occasional use of extra-wide
inserts, which give the appearance of mats. It has been popular lately to
employ less ornamentation and gilding and to bring the finish into closer
relationship with the picture.

Photographs may be given more importance on a wall by matting them. They are
ordinarily framed close with glass in natural or stained wood, silver or gold.

Fine reproductions of oil paintings, watercolors and prints are framed to
resemble their originals.

History Of Picture Framing

The picture frame, as it exists today, is derived from the doorway or entrance
to temples, palaces and cathedrals. From a functional viewpoint, it might have
been more practical to place doors at the sides of these buildings, but the
importance of the door framing an impressive picture of the interior was never

The need to enhance a picture or basrelief with a frame is evidenced from the
earliest times. The first decorations were necessarily crude; a raised line
sometimes being the only ornament.

The earliest examples of frame-like decorations or borders bear a great
resemblance to door frames. They were composed of two columns surmounted by a 
connecting entablature and this form persisted into the 15th century. Even the 
decorations painted by the artists around the edges of pictures before the 
introduction of movable frames were similar in form.

As a matter of fact, frames without pictures eventually came into existence
because the desire to embellish with moldings was so strong. Rooms in palaces
were arbitrarily paneled with Moldings and their vestigial remains are to be
seen today in the senselessly paneled walls of apartments in modern cities.

Movable picture frames for "easel" paintings gained quickly in popularity once
they were introduced. Besides the elaborate and intricate woodcarving, ebony,
ivory, tortoise shell and mother of pearl were used for inlaid decoration.

Gold, silver and every other metal have also been used for frames.

With the perfection of the technique of making large sheets of glass which were
in turn used to cover and protect pictures, framemaking received a big impetus
in the 17th century. In the 18th century, when cheaper mirrors were introduced,
frames were in greater demand than ever.

This century also saw an invention that was to revolutionize the art of frame
decoration - that of the development of molded composition ornaments. The use of
this easily handled material, which did away with the need for laborious and
expensive hand-carving, drove artisans to other fields. Since then, there has
been no large group of woodcarvers devoted solely to frame decoration.

It is interesting to note that during the Renaissance period, when movable
frames were first introduced, book decoration reached its highest form. 
Undoubtedly, the early carvers and framers, besides using architectural designs, 
took many of their ideas from early illuminated manuscripts. The frames of the 
Louis' periods certainly got their inspiration from typographical decorative 
motifs. Before then, architects and sculptors designed much of the scrollwork, 
but later goldsmiths were employed for decoration. Overelaboration became the 
order of the day until all forms were lost beneath the gingerbread.

With the French revolution, people turned away from all evidences of bourgeois
wealth and returnedto a refreshing simplicity. Until 1850 all Moldings were cut
from rough boards by hand, but with the invention of laborsaving machinery,
frames could be put on the market for what the raw material had cost previously.

This country was fortunately spared from the use of molded ornaments until the
advent of the Victorian era. American frames up to that time were relatively
simple and dignified, very often using only natural, stained wood and a gilded
insert The carving, when used, was restricted to the classical forms of
ornamentation for specific molding shapes.

The framemakers who constructed the monstrosities of the Victorian era were not
content to put one heavily embellished gold frame around a picture of "The Stag
at Bay" or something similar, but three or four. This birthday cake was then
enclosed in a glass-covered, plush-lined, mahogany shadowbox. This was 
presumably for protection, but its need is a mystery since the interiors of that 
time were heavily shaded and hermetically sealed anyway.

Around 1900 there was a fashion for "Oxford", plush and cork-decorated frames.
Hours and hours were spent carving these horrors and fitting them intricately
together or in decorating frames with segments of cork. They can be found only
rarely today, even in the higher priced secondhand stores, euphemistically
called "antique shops". But perhaps it is too early to drag out another
"antique" vogue. Mass production, to some degree at least, has forced a healthy

At the same time that heavy gilt frames were the vogue for oil paintings, a
demand for polished,veneered oak and white enamel frames developed. In order
to cheapen the cost of production, a fashion was instituted for bronze frames,
i.e., frames finished with gold or silver paint. It did not last long, however,
and simple, wide frames in black or dark brown wood of the Flemish type came
into favor.

"An inexpensive picture frame may be made by covering a plain pine frame with
varnish, then sprinkling it lavishly with either sand, oatmeal or rice. When
thoroughly dry, cover the whole surface with gold paint" - From a ladies magazine
of 1894.

As will be seen from this quotation, one of the causes of a great deal of
misconception regarding proper framing is the damage which has been done by
the "ideas" put forth in women's magazines and slick-paper decorators' journals.
The attempts at being "cute" and "homey" in the women's magazines and the
chi-chi attitude of being "smart" in the more expensive journals are on a par
for bad taste. There is no reason to suppose that any of the suggestions they
make today are any improvement basically over those advanced fifty years ago.

Just as all decorative art continued in the doldrums until the influence of the
"modern" art of the Paris Exposition of 1925 was felt, so picture framing had
its minor ups and downs in design.

In the late twenties there was a less hidebound attitude toward picture frames
and color, in place of gilt or gloomy black, began to appear. Picture framing
has lagged, to some extent, behind the advances made in the best of contemporary
furniture design for example, but that is to be expected since the bulk of home
furnishings produced in this country is in execrable taste.

While the major part of the framing being done today is still in poor taste,
one can avoid contributing to it by following a simple guide for good,
conventional work. Always consider the finish of the frame first in relation
to the picture and only later to the colors of draperies, furniture or walls.

The result will be that if the picture itself is really suited to the room,
the frame will also be harmonious. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules
in framing, and at times a slight variation in hue or value will certainly not
hurt the picture but may make it more in keeping with the interior for which
it is destined.

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