Frames are integral to the presentation of many art works and can often be appreciated as works of art in their own right. Their importance led to the creation of a specialised frame conservation section within the Gallery’s conservation department. The Gallery’s approach to framing is that frames should ideally be precisely accurate to the period in which the work was completed, enhance the picture, and secure the work safely. To properly conduct such work, the Gallery framer draws on a combination of skills including the traditional crafts of hand carving and water gilding and an understanding of modern materials.
In many cases works are purchased either unframed or have been subsequently reframed inaccurate to period. In the decades leading up to the mid-20th century in particular, frames in both public and private collections were often considered simply as decorative elements around a painting with little or no historical value. They would often be discarded with a change of owner or fashion. As a result, many original gilded frames between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries were sometimes replaced with contemporary mouldings, such as commercially finished frames or linen covered slips. This is the case for some paintings in the Collection.
The Gallery is now dedicated to reversing this history by researching the provenance of frames for paintings in the Collection and establishing an archive of profiles and ornamentation suitable to particular artists and periods. In addition, some original frames are in such poor condition that they no longer provide a safe environment for the painting and require major restoration, often at a structural level. In some instances, the Gallery framer crafts a period accurate historical frame. In each case these frames are based on extensive research into suitable period frames, and rely on the expertise of the Gallery’s frame maker and an archive of thousands of carved and composition profiles of original ornamentation collected over many years. All decisions concerning a new frame are the result of discussions between the Gallery’s frame maker and the relevant conservator and curator.
AGWA's framer, Trevor Gillies in his studio.