Weekly Question No. 18 - On Framing

It is a truism that a fancy frame can’t make a bad painting into a good one. Many large modern works, especially abstract works, are exhibited without frames. They were not meant to be framed. Traditional realist work seems more at home in a frame. A good frame can set a realist painting off to advantage. However, I often see work that is over-framed; decked out with ornamentation and gilding which dominates or detracts from the work. 

Is it just a matter of taste or are there some rules of thumb that can help us choose the best frame for our realist paintings?  What is you approach to framing?


  • I wish I knew more about framing and frames.  Choosing a frame to go with a work is almost an art in itself. 
    Here’s a framed Rembrandt with a typical Dutch frame.  And my favorite Italian painter Giuseppe de Nittis in an Italian frame.

    I can appreciate the Italian frame even if it is a bit over the top.
    The Dutch frame works anywhere and anytime.
    Lately I have been using floater frames and am even going to float some ACM panels.
  • @GTO, you are right about the Dutch frame, a thing of simplistic beauty that could grace any setting or work.
    The gold work is a bit over the top, however, I love the juxtaposition or the richness of the frame, with the hot, dry, dusty, impoverished air of the work itself.

    For my paintings, I use what I have, it saves me in costs, but most of all, it saves me in making decisions.    I tell myself it is the best I can do with limited resources, rather than choosing the best frame I could!!
    I am pretty conservative with my framing.    I like wood, and find one that suits a colour existing in the work.  Sometimes a fine gold strip help lift a picture.
    Of the limited works I have sold,  most are unframed since they were commissions or were to be sent overseas.      If I hung works in a gallery on a regular basis, I would have to re-think my approach.

    I think this subject also leads on to the question of....should you re-frame an original; especially an older work where the artist is dead?     This has come up recently in a family I know who inherited a series of Edwardian paintings framed in their original, period typical gold frames.     The wife of the deceased changed the frames for modern ones to match her updated decor.     The adult children who will inherit the family works, were horrified, but unable to do anything about it.     A dilemma, which, in the light of what is happening in other parts of the world is not important, but to the family involved, it has caused much angst and sorrow.
    On the flipside, I know of works that have been improved immeasurably by replacing the original frame.
  • I can't buy clothes from a rack and I can't choose a frame from the array of timber in a framing shop. It's an art I'm not good at. My early paintings are purposely frameless. I've now framed three and got the framer to suggest and then second opinions at home.
    A frame has to serve both the painting and the room it ends up in. Many ornate frames suited the decor and sensibilities of the time (without detracting, which they certainly can) but won't work in some modern settings.
  • edited March 27
    Thanks @GTO and @toujours.   :)

    @GTO, I love the de Nittis painting. It's one of my favorite landscapes.  But hate the frame - it's so over the top, IMHO. I don't remember seeing it with the frame before. For me, it detracts from that wonderful painting. The  Rembrandt is well framed although, by today's standards, it might be regarded as a bit heavy. But it suits the painting and reflects the times. Like you, I use floater frames, as do most painters at my gallery. They are minimal; hardly there. They just give a crisp edge that seems to finish and lift the paintings a little. Thanks for taking the time to provide some examples.  

    @toujours, there's nothing wrong with using recycled frames. And, as you say, it saves money. Andrew Tischler does this.
    I can sympathize with those children who will inherit the paintings you spoke of.  Generally, I think paintings should keep their original frames chosen by the artist. They are part of the history of the work and provide context. But there are exceptions. The de Nittis above might be one such. 
  • GTOGTO -
    edited March 27
    I have a Joan Howe painting, a beach scene at night, that I love.  Her husband made the frames for all her paintings. I wrote to Joan in the Florida Keys before she passed away and told her how much I loved this painting of hers.
    This is a case where you would not want to change the frame because of that history.

  • edited March 27
    I agree, @GTO. Love the painting.  :)
  • Thanks, @Abstraction. Yes, I think the room in which a painting will be hung must have some influence on the type of frame we decide on. The only other option is to choose something we think will be ok in any room. That's one reason I take a minimalist approach and use simple floating frames. These aren't there to make a statement - they just give a crisp finish and it is open to buyers to frame the painting differently if required - to match their décor for example.   :)
  • I'm moving away from traditional frames and backing my paintings onto a black panel with around 2-3cm showing around the edge (so a black border). I think it looks nice and modern. :)
  • @Richard_P Can you show an example? I can't picture it.
  • @Richard_P is your painting a panel or a canvas on stretcher bars?
  • edited March 27
    @Richard_P, that's a similar effect to what you get with a floating frame. Love this painting. It's your best landscape. 
  • It's on paper. :) Acrylics are flexible!
  • @Richard_P Love painting and the frame. What's the frame made of? Is it card?
  • 5mm thick expanded foam PVC. :)
  • I have used those classic black wood with thin gold inner frame (style similar to first photo) for a few of my works.

    I think they often go well with still life’s.

    I have actually got some equipment for making frames and will no doubt find more time for that when I retire in 5 years.
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