Update on the exhibition
The Art of the Picture Frame, National Portrait Gallery, 1996
Addendato the book by Jacob Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame, Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, National Portrait Gallery, 1996. Last updated March 2017.
Further information on many of the framemakers discussed in the book may be found in the online resource, British picture framemakers, on the National Portrait Gallery website.
Edward VI: The hidden signature of the artist on the frame has now been detected by x-rays.
William Laud: Further examination makes it clear that the frame is not original to the portrait.
Thomas Chiffinch: Three other frames of this type, with paired dolphins at top and bottom, can be found on Van Dyck studio portraits at Blickling Hall, Norfolk; another example is in store at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire.
Samuel Pepys: The portraits in Pepys's Library all seem to be of his friends. Pepys's own portrait must have hung elsewhere. It is possible that Pepys reframed some of his pictures to obtain a uniform set for his Library. See also Mac Pritchard, ‘Samuel Pepys: portraits and picture frames’, The Burlington Magazine, vol.153, April 2011, pp.220-3.
Charles II: Similar frames are at Glamis Castle.
Jacob Tonson: Research is in progress with a view to publishing an article on the rehousing, framing and engraving of the Kit-cat Club portraits in the 1730s. The tablets on the Kit-cat Club frames are the earliest frame tablets in the exhibition identifying the subject of a picture.
William Shenstone: It has been suggested by the late John Cornforth that this frame may perhaps have started life as a mirror frame.
Samuel Richardson: The later gessoing and gilding has been removed and the frame regilded, 2000.
Duchess of Devonshire: The 'carving' is in fact pressed and gilt papier-mâché.
no. 46, note 3
Robert Tull’s account book is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.
Thomas Hope: The original fluting in the hollow of the frame has now been exposed to view by stripping off the later gesso. Fig. 69 shows work in progress.
George Canning: The frame was definitely made by George Morant; it bears his label.
Frederick, Duke of York: The frame was commissioned from Thomas Macdonald (information and letter transcriptions kindly provided by Hamish Miles). On 9 June 1822, Wilkie wrote to Macdonald, ‘If Mr. Macdonald will call in Phillimore Place on Wednesday morning at 10, Mr. W. wishes him to take measure to make a frame for the portrait of H.R.H. the Duke of York, with coat of arms, etc’. Later that year, on 12 December, Wilkie wrote again to Macdonald, 'Mr. Wilkie requests that the man who is to bring the mouldings on Saturday morning may take back with him the frame for the Duke of York'.
1st Earl of Ellenborough: Payment for the frame on the companion portrait of Lord Lincoln can be found in Robert Thick's ledger (private collection) under 2 August 1848: ‘Making Frame to & Writing Earl of Lincoln by Say 1848 £10.18s’.
Stephen Lushington: This frame is to a pattern designed by the architect and designer Owen Jones (1809-74) for the National Gallery's pair of pictures attributed to Quinten Massys, Christ and The Virgin. I am most grateful to Nicholas Penny for drawing my attentions to an entry in the diary of Ralph Wornum, Keeper at the National Gallery, under 15 February 1858 where he notes, ‘received from Ford's the frame for the Quentin Matsys pictures, made from a design by Owen Jones’, see National Gallery Archive (NGA2/3/2/13).
James Froude: Sir George Reid’s use of the enriched fluted pattern extended until at least 1899. Additional examples are two half-lengths, Thomas Grainger Stewart, 1893, and Sir John Sibbald, 1899 (both Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh) and two full-lengths, The Earl of Stair, exh. 1889, and The Marquis of Lothian, exh. 1899 (both Royal Company of Archers, Edinburgh).
Alfred Waterhouse: A rather similar frame can be found on Alma-Tadema's Love in Idleness, 1891 (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle).
William Shakespeare: The reframing of this portrait coincided with the celebrations in April 1864 for the tercentenary of Shakespeare's birth.
Octavia Hill: This frame seems to be Italian 17th century, altered and regilded for Sargent's purpose. See Notes on John Singer Sargent's frames on the National Portrait Gallery website.
Sir Frank Swettenham: John Singer Sargent used a carved Spanish frame for his Viscountess D'Abernon, 1904 (Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama). Over the next few years, he had it copied in compo by Charles Mitchell May for three other three-quarter-length portraits, Sir Frank Swettenham, 1904 (National Portrait Gallery), Rev. Endicott Peabody, 1905 (Groton School, Massachusetts) and Mrs Archibald Williamson, 1906 (Private coll.). For a detailed account of Sargent and framing, see Jacob Simon, ‘John Singer Sargent and the Framing of his Pictures’, in Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: Figures and Landscapes, 1914-1925, Complete Paintings, vol.9, 2016, pp.56-79.
Sir Lionel Cust: Sir John Lavery used an identical frame for his 1912 landscape sketch, Evening, Tangier (Sotheby’s, 17 December 2015, lot 65).
Osbert Sitwell: On the basis of limited further evidence I am inclined to see the decoration of this frame as the responsibility of the artist rather than the sitter.
Kenneth Clark: The date for Graham Sutherland's death should be given as 1980, not 1991.
The rise of the exhibition frame: Despite the evidence that 'massy gold frames' were encumbering the walls of the Royal Academy as early as 1781, meaning that 'the carver rather than the artist claims our attention', it has been mistakenly claimed in the publication accompanying the exhibition at the Courtauld Institute Gallery, Art on the Line, that special thin exhibition frames were used as a standard practice at the Academy when it moved to Somerset House in 1780. To quote: 'exhibitors must have been encouraged to use thin frames designed for the purpose, and quite different from the more ornate surrounds usually used for displaying pictures in private houses. The use of special (and presumably re-usable) exhibition frames appears to have been standard practice at least during the first few decades' (see John Sunderland and David Solkin, 'Staging the Spectacle', in David Solkin (ed.), Art on the Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House 1780-1836, 2001, pp. 23-37, especially p. 25).
This is an overstatement. It is certainly true that some artists kept stock frames for sending in non-commissioned works. James Northcote states that Sir Joshua Reynolds's fancy pictures were framed by the artist himself in frames which were not more than two inches in depth: 'Sir Joshua's frames went year after year; one frame in particular, I remember, had gone so often it might almost have found its way to the Exhibition alone'. Joseph Wright of Derby's practice was somewhat similar, judging from his correspondence concerning the Society of Artists exhibition in 1774 when he refers to 'an old Italian moulding frame which I have had by me for many years and keep for the use of the exhibition'. However, while some artists submitted work in relatively simple frames which they kept for the purpose, many pictures were more richly framed, especially commissioned works where the framing would have been the responsibility of the patron. Northcote says of his master, Reynolds, that 'his portraits were sent [to the exhibition] in such frames as his sitters provided for them'. Visitors to the Academy and other exhibitions are likely to have seen a great mix of frames, some elaborate, reflecting the taste and pocket of the patron, others relatively simple, especially if an artist had to bear the cost.
E.F. Burney in his record drawings of the 1784 exhibition (Art on the Line, figs. 17-19, 207) deliberately reduces the frames to paired straight lines and makes no attempt to portray the actual appearance of the frames. A truer feeling for these frames can be obtained from Daniel Dodd's view of the very same exhibition (fig. 33), which shows that many of the frames were actually quite elaborate, although relatively narrow in keeping with the taste of the time. J.H. Ramberg's views of the 1787 and 1788 exhibitions (figs. 35, 37) are schematic but they do give some hint of the ornamentation on some of the frames as an examination of a detail of the 1787 view (fig. 208) reveals.
Framing miniatures: Interesting light is thrown on the framing of miniatures at the Royal Academy in an account by Andrew Robertson in April 1803 who wrote how he conceived the large frames in which he housed his pictures 'essential, to give them their proper effect'; he thus ignored the rule limiting miniature frames to mouldings of one-inch width but was satisfied to find his work hung at the centre of the miniatures at the Royal Academy, noting that 'they make a conspicuous figure, and the first things that strike the eye on entering the room' (Emily Robertson, editor, Letters and Papers of Andrew Robertson, 2nd ed., 1897, pp. 96-7).
White frames: At the Royal Scottish Academy, the rule that white frames were not admissible for oil paintings was introduced in 1926 and then abandoned in 1933.
Ferruccio Vannoni: Although Ferruccio Vannoni’s frames were supplied through Duveen’s Paris office, it appears that he was in fact resident in Florence: in 1948 his address was via Borgo Ognissanti, 8 (see Nicholas Penny, ‘Frame Studies’, letter, Burlington Magazine, vol. 141, 1999, p. 356. For detailed consideration of the Duveen frame, see Nicholas Penny and Karen Serres, ‘Duveen and the decorators’, Burlington Magazine, vol.149, 2007, pp.400-6, and 'Duveen's French frames for British pictures', Burlington Magazine, vol.151, June 2009, pp.388-94.
Another instance of frames being burnt for the value of their gold can be identified in 1928 when the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery ‘gave permission for a number of old picture frames to be disposed of to the gold refiners’, a sale which raised £8.15s.11d (National Portrait Gallery, Trustees’ minutes, 9 February 1928, pp. 49, 58).
page 26 and fig.13
John Bratby: John Bratby’s attitude to the encroachment of frames on the picture surface is most vociferously spelt out in his article, ‘The Philistine Framer, The Artist, September 1963, p.8. He complains about philistine framers who choose to present the frame to best advantage, rather than the painting. He explains his concerns about the encroachment of the frame over details at the edge of his compositions, e.g. his picture of Carel Weight and his wife, size 4 x 3 feet. In considering how to deal with problems arising from the framing of his pictures, he initially left a wide margin of white canvas around each work so that the paint would not be covered by the frame. But finding it unnatural to restrict himself in this way, he then chose to supervise the framing of his paintings so that the framer first battens the canvas and then fixes the frame’s rebate on the batten so keeping all the picture surface visible.
The introduction of compo: The carver, Thomas Johnson, known for his engraved designs in the rococo style, can be found complaining of the carving business as ‘being ruined by the invention of composition’ in the 1770s. See Jacob Simon, ‘Thomas Johnson’s The Life of the Author’, Furniture History Society, 2003, p. 9. In 1775, the carver and gilder, John Sotheby, advertised an early form of compo for picture frames, from 13 Strand, near Lancaster Court, claiming that ‘his invention of ornaments laid on to picture frames… looks equally elegant to those carved in the neatest manner, even to bear the nicest inspection, and at much less expense; is of a hardness near to stone, and will burnish preferable to carvings in wood, as it is itself a sufficient body, without injuring the sharpness of the wood, which the preparation for gilding on wood or paper, will always do. Patterns May be seen…’ (Morning Post and Daily Advertiser 12 April 1775). In 1784 the Norwich carver and gilder, Benjamin Jagger, referred to ‘putty work’, presumably referring to compo, in a letter to a young framemaker, Jeremiah Freeman, then working in London.
p. 45, fig. 35
Richard Scully: It has now been established that this is the trade catalogue of Richard Scully.
Arthur Melville: For 1883 read 1885.
Ebony frames: Such frames were purchased by Charles I when Prince of Wales in the early 1620s from Richard Norris, see British picture framemakers on the National Portrait Gallery website.
L. Bertram: This framemaker can now be identified as Frederick Bartram (1827-1883?), see British picture framemakers on the National Portrait Gallery website.
p. 92, fig. 91
Charles Jervas: The portrait by Charles Jervas can be more accurately dated to about 1709; see correspondence in the National Library of Wales, items 2511, 2528, 2529.
Thomas Lawrence: Additional information on Lawrence and framing can be found at Thomas Lawrence and picture framing on the National Portrait Gallery website.
Sir George Beaumont: It was Sir George Beaumont, Wilkie's patron, not Wilkie himself, who liked 'a frame with rich corners & then more plain in the middle'; see Allan Cunningham, The Life of Sir David Wilkie, 1843, vol. 1, pp. 326-8, rather than the Whitley papers as quoted in note 113.
John Rogers Herbert: Herbert's Lear disinheriting Cordelia is in the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston. It has a frame of the type commonly found on Herbert's pictures.
The taste for old frames: An intriguing reference concerning the taste for old frames comes in a letter from Lord Chesterfield, about a newly acquired picture by Rubens, to Solomon Dayrolles, 24 February 1749OS: ‘The frame though not a fashionable is a handsome one, and shall, with the addition that I will make to it, be a fine one. I do not dislike something a little antique in the frame of an old picture; provided it be rich, I think it is more respectable.’ (Lord Mahon, The Letters of Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, 1892, vol.3, p.343).
p. 121, fig. 130
Samuel Pepys’s Library: The drawing of Samuel Pepys’s Library is by Sutton Nicholls.
Thomas Maxfield Temple: It was Thomas Temple's son, Thomas Maxfield Temple, who was made bankrupt in 1839.
C.J. Eckford: An example of C.J. Eckford's printed 'Sheet of Drawings', datable to 1840, can be found in the British Museum, Dept of Prints and Drawings, in the Franks Ephemera, vol. 4 (as kindly pointed out by Antony Griffiths). This item from the Franks Ephemera is located at I & J Smith/British XIXc Imp.
John Smith: Smith was not the only framemaker to have used framemakers’ names to specify ornament. Details of George Jackson’s practice are described at British picture framemakers on the National Portrait Gallery website.
Robert Tull: His ledger now belongs to the National Portrait Gallery.
p. 194, note 38
The Practical Carver and Gilder's Guide seems to have been issued in a series of editions as follows: 1st ed., 1873 or later (probably 1874), 140 pp + [xii] pp adverts; 2nd ed., 1874 or later (perhaps 1875), 176 pp; 3rd ed., 1874 or later (perhaps 1876), 176 pp + [viii] pp adverts; 4th ed., c.1877, 201 pp + [i] p. adverts; 5th ed., c.1877 or later, 205 pp + [iii] pp adverts. Authorship of the 5th edition is given to Charles H. Savory: earlier editions are described as 'By a Practical Hand'.
p. 197, note 31
An earlier instance of the use of the term, Sunderland, for picture frames can be found in in the National Portrait Gallery Trustees’ minutes, 9 May 1871, specifying for certain newly acquired portraits that ‘Frames of the Sunderland pattern used for similar pictures at Althorp to be provided for them.’
Reviews of the exhibition and book
- John Cornforth, Country Life, vol. CXC, 14 November 1996, pp. 32-5.
- Alastair Laing, Apollo, vol. CXLV, January 1997, pp. 52-3.
- Nicholas Penny, Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXXIX, February 1997, pp. 130-2.
- Peter Cannon-Brookes, Museum Management and Curatorship, vol. XV, 1996, pp. 419-23, 434-5
Read our latest news and have your say.
Identify our Silhouettes
Join enthusiastic contributors who have already identified 155 sitters.
Tell us more about our Silvy sitters
Help us identify the sitters who visited Camille Silvy’s photographic studio during the 1860s.