When I go to the museums the first thing that hits me is the incredibly ornate, gold-leaf frames which often overpower the paintings. Many of these frames are a work of art on their own. Still, while the craftsmanship is inspiring, the combination of frame with painting is almost too much to take in. To my eyes they seem in conflict almost to the point where the painting loses it’s power.
So how did frames come to exist in the first place? They appeared three thousand to four thousand years agoon tomb paintings. Frames were used primarily as decorative borders in early Christian art using gold and gems in frames around the alters. Later the frames, while still ornate, were used to protect the art as well as decorate it. During the Renaissance, frames were commissioned by monarchs indicating wealth and power. Later these frames were copied for the average person to use.
This made me think how a frame might influence the way a painting is received. When I first started doing watercolors in the early 1980’s, they were framed with double mats and wood moldings. Soon came the silver and gold metal frames which were easy on the eye and less expensive on the pocketbook. They moved away from the heavier moldings and had a cleaner look overall on the artwork. Acrylic paintings were framed with wood stripping around the edges. In the 1990’s simple oak frames were favored.
This brings me to the latest trend in the New York galleries today. Most of the work is shown in white frames. The larger the painting the heavier the frame. I admit to liking this trend very much. It enhances the art and gives the work a sense of importance. The way a painting is framed depicts the times in which it’s shown. For that reason alone I feel it’s a good idea to know what’s being shown in the galleries and museums. These institutions influence the way art is accepted and frames of a time depict the way the artwork is seen.