Finishing the Look: How to Choose Frames for your Art, Part 2

As I mentioned in Friday’s post, framing is truly the finishing touch to collecting and displaying art. The embellishment (or lack thereof) in a frame and mat is the window which lends an air of intent, theme and mood to the piece. For art with historical content, a period frame (one original to the same era in which the painting was created and at times the only frame that has accompanied the work), is important to its integrity and scholarship.

In this photo you see that the frames are ornate and intricately fashioned. Many of these frames are original to the period (mid to late 19th century) and are also hand-carved, a sign of workmanship that is rare to find today except in exclusive framing and high end art dealing.

Image: Cleveland Art Museum

When we look at contemporary art in the same academic setting the trend has swayed toward minimalism, leaving large canvases to fend for themselves against white walls. What do you think of this contradictory handling between say, Impressionism and Contemporary art? Does scale have anything to do with the lack of a frame?

Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art

There are a few key things that should be consistent when you’r shopping for frames. The larger the piece, the wider the width of the frame should be. This is for safety as well as visual reasons. Imagine a poster sized painting being framed by a 1 inch wide frame. Not only would that be off-balance visually, it would be hard for a piece of glass to be held in place by such a small frame. Conversely, the smaller a piece of art, the thinner the width of the frame. There are always exceptions to this rule, if you’re looking to make a large impact but these are general guidelines to keep in mind.

The above reproduction of a Maxfield Parrish painting is an example of a well-fitted frame. Adding about three inches on either side, it lends a nice contrast to the lighter palette of the work and is wide enough to visually balance the large image.

Image: East and Orient

These prints are no larger than 8″ x 10″ and are handsomely housed in thin width frames, no larger than 1 inch. They also have a matching mat with a beveled edge liner in gold/tan to draw attention to the outer line of matching color. This gives the series an overall motif to match the subject matter.

If you’re considering a colored frame, that’s an adventurous and effective choice to enhance the painting. Make sure that you choose complementary hues rather than trying to match the painting to its exact palette. For instance, the nature series above would have looked handsome with a dark wood frame or even a marbled wood with various tones to pick up all the different neutral tones in the piece.

Ask the framer or bring a friend along if you’re unsure about choosing frames. Ultimately, it should be an engaging and exciting experience. And don’t fret about it if you get it back and it doesn’t look quite right, framing can always be changed to match the mood of the painting. Good luck!

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