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British picture framemakers, 1600-1950 - V

An online resource, launched in 2007, selectively updated twice yearly. Last updated March 2022. Contributions are welcome, to Jacob Simon at [email protected].

Introduction Resources and bibliography

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*Andrew Vacani 1868-1872, J. Woodgate & A. Vacani 1873-1878, Andrew Vacani 1878-1886, Paul Vacani 1887-1911.At26 Southampton Row, London 1868-1871, 94 High Holborn 1872, 95-96 High Holborn 1873-1885, 22 Dean St 1882-1890, 157 Fulham Road SW 1891-1911. Carver and gilders, picture framemakers, art dealers etc.

Two generations of this family of Italian origin, Andrew Vacani and his son Paul, traded as picture framemakers but also more widely as art and furniture dealers. At one stage the father was in partnership with Josiah Woodgate. The Vacanis’ best known client was Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

Andrew Pasquale Vacani (c.1824-1903) appears to have worked initially for another Italian carver, John Ponzini, at whose address, 22 Hatton Garden, he was listed as a shopman, gilder and carver in the 1861 census. He was recorded as a carver and gilder in the 1871 and 1891 censuses, and as a furniture dealer, aged 56, born ‘Lake of Como, Italy’ in 1881. He was then living at 95 High Holborn with his English-born wife Susan, and son Paul, age 26, employed as a clerk. Andrew Vacani’s partnership with Josiah Woodgate (1831-84) was described in the 1873 directory as 'Dealers and importers of antique furniture, curiosities & works of art, looking glass & picture frame makers & artistic decorators, carvers, gilders & upholsterers'. The partnership, trading as J. Woodgate & Vacani at 95-96 High Holborn, was dissolved in March 1878 (London Gazette 2 April 1878). Andrew Vacani, described as a dealer in furniture and articles of vertu, carver and gilder, of 95-96 High Holborn and 22 Dean St, was subject to debt proceedings in 1882 (London Gazette 16 June 1882). He continued to trade, referring for many years to his business as 'late Woodgates'. The Woodgate business had been begun by Thomas W. Woodgate in the 1850s (see Mark Westgarth, ‘Dictionary of 19th century antique & curiosity dealers’, Regional Furniture, vol.23, 2010, p.189).

Correspondence between the dealer, Charles Augustus Howell, and the printmaker, Richard Josey, in 1880, mentions Vacani, who sometimes acted for Howell in purchasing old master paintings (Martin Hopkinson, 'Richard Josey and Charles Augustus Howell’, Print Quarterly, vol.20, 2003, p.256, n.19).

The son, Andrew Francis Paul Vacani (1855-1914), known as Paul, was living at 22 Dean St, his father's house, when arrested in a raid on a gambling club in 1889 (The Times 18 September 1889). He had set up at 157 Fulham Road as a carver and gilder by the time of the 1891 census, and was listed there as a fine art dealer in 1901 with his father, now in retirement. In the 1911 census he was a patient at Horton Asylum, Epsom.

Framing work: Edward Burne-Jones seems to have used both Andrew Vacani and his son Paul at one time or another between 1879 and 1890. In correspondence with Burne-Jones in 1884, William Graham asks if 'old' Vacani has brought back Cophetua, and in an undated letter he refers to Vacani calling concerning a frame design (Garnett 2000, letters B28, B55). Burne-Jones himself mentions Vacani, possibly the son, Paul, in about 1890, when writing to William De Morgan to ask if Vacani might copy a frame from Florence in De Morgan’s possession (A.M.W. Stirling, William De Morgan and his Wife, 1922, p.71). Burne-Jones’s Annunciation, 1879, has the label of Paul Vacani, 22 Dean St (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, see Morris 1994 pp.13-14).

Paul Vacani’s frame trade label from 157 Fulham Road gives an idea of the extensive range of his business: 'Carver, Gilder and Art Frame Maker, Specialist in Tempieto Pradella and Stucco Frames. Dealer in Old & Modern Furniture, Bronzes, China, Pictures & Articles of Vertu, Bric a Brac, &c. Old work renovated cleaned & made equal to new. Workmen sent to all parts and kept on the premises' (a damaged example of this label can be found on William Boxall's Lewis Cubitt, 1845, National Portrait Gallery, presumably a reframing; another example on the frame of a painting by Sir Edward Poynter, information from Keith Holmes, 1994). Vacani also used a much plainer oval frame label, simply reading in capitals, 'Paul Vacani Frame Maker and Gilder 157, Fulham Road, S.W.’ (example on Louisa Starr-Canziani’s Brian Houghton Hodgson, exh.1872, National Portrait Gallery).

For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

Robert Varley, see Charles David Soar

*Thomas Vialls, The Golden Head, Great Newport St, London by 1756-1764 or later, Leicester Square by 1767-1780 or later (at the King’s Arms by 1772-1775 or later). Carver and gilder, picture framemaker.

Thomas Vialls (1719-81), son of Amos and Hannah, was christened at St Martin-in-the-Fields. He was a framemaker of considerable importance in the late eighteenth century for his wide-ranging contacts and the quality of his work. Vialls’s name is also found spelt Vials and Vial’s.

Vialls married Frances Hue in 1752 at St George Mayfair, and they had a son, Thomas, born 1758, who presumably died young since he is not mentioned in his father’s will. Vialls took John Kendall as an apprentice for a premium of £30 in 1754 and Stephen Dawson for £31.10s in 1758. Vialls applied to the carver and designer, Thomas Johnson (qv), in about 1755 or 1756, to make all his drawings and to undertake the principal part of his work, according to Johnson, and subsequently gave him business of upwards of £150 a year for more than twenty-one years (Simon 2003 p.7). He took an apprentice, Stephen Dawson, in 1758 (Boyd). He was appointed as carver and gilder to H.R.H. the Duke of Gloucester in 1764 (Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser 28 November 1764). By 1767 he had moved from Great Newport St to the east side of Leicester Square, sometimes called Leicester Fields. He took out insurance with the Sun Fire Office in 1763 at Great Newport St, in 1768 on premises on the east side of Leicester Fields and in 1780 on his house and other property in Clapham.

At his death in 1781, Vialls’s younger brother, Amos, and his ‘worthy friend’, William Marlow the artist, were executors to his will, made 31 March 1779 and proved 28 June 1781; he appears to have been relatively wealthy at death, making various bequests to his nephew, also Thomas Vialls, and to his nieces. He left considerable leasehold property and other assets, requesting to be interred in Clapham churchyard in the same grave as his late wife. He bequeathed to his niece, Sarah Vialls, his leasehold property in Leicester Square, together with his 'stock, utensils and instruments in my trade or business'. She married William Beaumont (qv), who described himself as Vialls’s nephew and successor (Simon 1996 p.132).

Framing work: 'Mr Vial's is more amongst the Great, more Elegant in Taste and I guess in price', wrote William Constable's agent about an order for a table frame for Burton Constable in about 1765, providing an indication of the high reputation Vialls enjoyed (see Simon 1996 p.132). The 'great' presumably numbered the 3rd Duke of Dorset who in 1770 ordered a very rich frame for his full-length portrait (Knole, Kent) by Joshua Reynolds at a cost of £26.5s and had numerous smaller pictures by Reynolds framed by Vialls during the decade, including the portrait, Wang-y-Tong (Knole), which appears as 'the Chinese picture' in Vialls's bill in 1776: 'a half length oyl gold Italian moulding frame, 4½ in. broad, carved with loose foliage and ribbons' at a cost of £3.18s (see National Portrait Gallery website, A Guide to Picture Frames at Knole).

Vialls supplied picture frames to Lord Folkestone for Longford Castle from 1756 (Country Life, vol.70, 1931, p.717) and undertook carving work for Wilton House in 1758-9, Woburn Abbey in 1760 and 1767, Shelburne House, Berkeley Square, 1766-8, and for Thomas Pelham of Stanmer in 1767-8. For James Grant of Grant he framed two pastels by Katharine Read and two drawings by William Marlow in 1764 and two three-quarter portraits by John Eccardt in Maratta frames at £3.3s each in 1766 (National Archives of Scotland, Seafield papers, GD248/449/1/57, GD248/249/2/35). He made two 'large bold Burnish Gold Carlo maratt picture frames with spandrels' for £16.16s for Burton Constable in 1765 (information from David Connell, October 1999). He also worked for Edward Knight, Kidderminster, 1765-71 (Penny 1986 p.813), for Sir James Langham or his father at Cottesbrooke Hall, Northamptonshire, providing Kent frames with tablets for various portraits, and he was paid for picture frames for Lord Darnley at Cobham Hall, Kent, in 1768, including for Nathaniel Dance's portrait of Lady Darnley (DEFM).

Vialls was a leading supplier of picture frames to Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Stubbs. He was conveniently close to Reynolds's studio in Leicester Square. Reynolds ordered frames from Vialls for his two Dilettanti Society groups at a cost of £21 each, though a dispute over the bill meant that the frames went unpaid for years. Vialls was mentioned in Reynolds's correspondence in 1780.

Vialls framed some of George Stubbs's large enamels in 1780 at the instigation of Josiah Wedgwood to a pattern which met with Stubbs's enthusiastic approval (Simon 1996 p.96; see also Paul Mitchell and LynnRoberts, ‘Stubbs's frames', in Judy Egerton, George Stubbs, Painter: Catalogue Raisonné, 2007, p.86). Vialls had links with other leading artists. Both Marlow and Sawrey Gilpin used him as a contact address in the exhibition catalogues of the Society of Artists, Marlow from 1764 to 1780 and Gilpin in 1768 ('At Windsor, enquire at Mr. Vial's'). Vialls supplied the frames for four pictures by Gilpin at Calke Abbey in 1775 and was responsible for packing Gilpin's pictures at the Society of Artists exhibition in 1771 (Catherine Wills, 'Stable Ancestry', Country Life, vol.183, 9 March 1989, p.148).

Sources: London Metropolitan Archives, Sun Fire Office policy registers, 148/201377, 174/243668, 282/428784; Lucy Wood, Catalogue of Commodes. The Lady Lever Art Gallery, 1994, pp.133-4, n.23, 25, for Thomas Pelham; Lionel Cust, History of the Society of Dilettanti, 1898, p.222; John Ingamells, The Letters of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 2002, p.90; catalogue, Tempo Manor sale, held by Hamilton Osborne King at Slane Castle 27 September 2004, repr. Cottesbrooke frames, information from Christopher Foley. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

Updated September 2014, March 2020
John Vokins 1812-1836, John & William Vokins 1837-1910. At 5 Upper Rathbone Place, Fitzroy Square, London 1812-1826, 5 John St, Oxford St 1828-1858, street renamed and numbered 1858/9, 14 & 16 Great Portland St 1859-1896, 3 Great Castle St 1849-1866,10 King St, Pall Mall 1894-1910. Carvers and gilders, picture framemakers, dealers in works of art.

John Vokins (1788-1832) set up a carving and gilding business which under his two sons, John Henry Vokins (1810/11-78) and William Vokins (1815-95), became a leading firm of art dealers, specialising in watercolours. The business lasted into the third generation under James Theodore Vokins (1844-1910), William’s son.

John Vokins was apprenticed to John Harris (qv) and is recorded as ‘at Mr Harris’ in 1808, when he was noted as ordering a frame in an unidentified subcontracting framemaker’s account book (see Unknown maker in this online resource). By 1812 Vokins had set up independently at 5 Upper Rathbone Place, where he was listed in land tax records. He described himself in his will, made 2 January 1828 and proved 3 January 1833, as a carver and gilder of 5 John St, referring also to his house at 5 Upper Rathbone Place. He makes mention of his late mother, Margaret Vokins, and in a codicil refers to his two sons, John and William, leaving to John, under certain conditions, 'all my stock-in-trade, frames, pictures, except those drawn and painted by my son William which I give my said son William, utensils, implements of trade and all articles and effects of that kind, also my said trade and business as a carver and gilder and the shop and premises adjoining to my said house in John Street'.

The Vokins business was a customer of the specialist composition ornament suppliers, George Jackson & Sons (qv), 1836-40 (see Jackson account book, V&A Archive of Art and Design, AAD/2012/1/2/3). John Vokins’ son, John Henry Vokins was listed as a carver, gilder and picture restorer in Pigot’s 1839 directory, and as a carver and gilder, age 40, at 5 John St in the 1851 census. William Vokins was reputedly a notable judge of English watercolours (Jeremy Maas, The Victorian Art World in Photographs, 1984, p.201). He was listed in the 1851 and 1861 censuses as a dealer in works of art at 3 Great Castle St, and in 1871 at Porchester Terrace, Paddington.

John Henry Vokins died in 1878, described as a dealer in works of art, leaving a considerable personal estate of under £35,000. The subsequent partnership between William Vokins, Arthur Vokins and James Theodore Vokins, in business as J. & W. Vokins, dealers in pictures and other works of art and picture framemakers at 14 and 16 Great Portland St, was dissolved as regards Arthur Vokins on 31 December 1885 (London Gazette 12 January 1886), who went on to trade independently as a printseller and fine art dealer (see below). William Vokins died in 1895, described as a dealer in works of art, leaving effects worth £42,490, a considerable estate. His executors put the leases up for the sale of 14 & 16 Great Portland St and 1-3 Great Castle St (The Times 2 January 1896), and then sold his modern pictures (The Times 10 March 1896). James Theodore Vokins (1844-1910), William’s only son, continued trading as J. & W. Vokins until shortly before his death in 1910, when the goodwill in the business was acquired by another firm of dealers, Pawsey & Payne. Payne had been a manager at Vokins (information from Briony Llewellyn, September 2019). Vokins’ records were lost in the Second World War as a result of bomb damage to Pawsey & Payne’s building in Bury St, St James’s (information supplied by a former partner in the business to Briony Llewellyn, September 2008).

Arthur Vokins (1839-1913), son of John Henry Vokins, worked as a picture restorer as well as a dealer. He held an account with the artists’ suppliers, Roberson’s, from 23 Baker St in 1894 (Woodcock 1997). A. Vokins & Sons were trading from Holborn in 1915 as picture liners, restorers and cleaners, while Arthur’s son, Herbert Arthur Vokins (1868-1930) was trading from 22 South Molton St in 1915 as a picture liner, restorer and cleaner. These businesses are not traced here.

Framing work: The business held an appointment as carvers and gilders to the Duke of Sussex, who died in 1843, and subsequently to Queen Victoria and to the Prince of Wales. It supplied numerous frames to Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort (Millar 1992, see index p.357), including for work by Sir Edwin Landseer 1850-1, Emma Richards 1851-3, Heinrich von Angeli 1875-8, and Valentine Prinsep 1877.

Other major clients included Thomas Miller, who purchased paintings by John Frederick Lewis through Vokins in 1855, Mrs Elizabeth Ellison who gave many of her modern British pictures to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1862 and John Jones (1800-82), who bequeathed his collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum, including paintings framed in the Louis Seize revival style. Examples in the Jones collection marked with the stencil of J. & W. Vokins, carvers and gilders to the Royal Family, include Frederick Goodall's The Bagpiper, 1847; examples labelled by appointment to HRH Prince of Wales include W.P. Frith’s The Village Merry-Making, and Thomas Webster's The Lesson. Other Jones pictures with Vokins’s stencil include Frith’s Measuring Heights, c.1842, and his Sancho Panza tells a tale to Duke and Duchess, 1850. Some of these would appear to be instances of Jones reframing pictures to give his collection a distinctive appearance.

Vokins dealt with the artist, George Bernard O’Neill, supplying him with frames in 1855 and purchasing works from him, 1857-61 (G.B. O’Neill, art expenses notebook, V&A National Art Library, MSL/1972/4395).

The following works were framed by Vokins. From the 1830s, Margaret Gillies’s large miniature, J.H. Leigh Hunt, exh.1839, has a rococo-style frame with the seal of J. & W. Vokins, 5 John St (National Portrait Gallery). From the 1870s and 1880s, Simeon Solomon’s watercolour, The Mystery of Faith, exh.1871 (Lady Lever Art Gallery) bears J. & W. Vokins’s label, by appointment to HM the Queen, ‘Looking Glass & Picture Frame Manufacturers. Dealers in Drawings & Works of Art. 14 & 16 Gt Portland Street, London’. George Du Maurier’s watercolour, Alfred Ainger, c.1881 (National Portrait Gallery) is stamped on the backing paper: J. & W. VOKINS,/ MAKERS,/ 14, GREAT PORTLAND ST, and Thomas Richardson’s Corie Echen, Highlands of Scotland, 1880, is similarly stamped (National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, see Payne 2007 p.263). The business invoiced the National Gallery of Victoria for a frame for Edwin Long’s Queen Esther, 1878, and also made the frame for Frank Holl’s Home again!, 1881 (Payne 2007 pp.258, 264). Also perhaps from this period is the frame on John Everett Millais’s juvenile work, Three Swordhilts, c.1839, stamped on the backboard: J. & W. VOKINS,/ MAKERS./ 14, GREAT PORTLAND ST (Birmingham Art Gallery).

J. & W. Vokins advertised a number of special devices for displaying prints and drawings, such as their 'Improved Standard Folio Frames, to contain a number of Drawings or Prints, making one frame answer the purpose of many, superseding the use of a portfolio, with the advantage of showing each work of Art framed and glazed, and placed at any angle' (The Art-Union August 1845 p.251). A notice from the 1851 Great Exhibition for J. & W. Vokins advertised their ‘Registered Mechanical Frames’ for displaying drawings and engravings; they were trading as ‘Carvers, Gilders, and Dealers in Works of Art’ from 5 John St and 3 Great Castle St (Johnson coll. Trade Cards 24 (65). They were still advertising their 'mechanical’ frames as late as 1875 (The Times 2 March 1875).

Sources: DEFM; obituaries of William Vokins and James Theodore Vokins, The Times 30 October 1895 and 1 November 1910; Victoria Doran, 'Frith's frames and the business of frame-making', in Mark Bills and Vivien Knight, William Powell Frith: painting the Victorian age, 2006, pp.157-9; Fitzwilliam Museum Library, volume of manuscript copy letters to the Syndicate or the Vice Chancellor, letter dated 9 October 1861 stating that the Ellison paintings offered to the museum had been inspected by Mr Vokins. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

Found a mistake? Have some extra information? Please contact Jacob Simon at [email protected].

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