One of the things I am most guilty of when looking at art is getting lost in the frame. I mean that literally. Most of the time I will first look at the painting, photograph, print etc but eventually my focus will divert to the square surrounding it. The frame.
I will become completely lost in this square of timber, fabric, paint, embellishment. I am absorbed in the craftsmanship, intricate detail, variety of material, colour, scale, the volume of work that has gone into this ‘encasing’ of the artwork, yet is given so little acknowledgement and recognition.
You can understand then that I was so very happy this week to discover that recently the NGV Australia has started to amend its information plates to include detail on the frame. In the 19th century Australian art galleries on the second floor of the Ian Potter Centre select works now contain information about the frame. Whether it is original or a reproduction, who the maker is or otherwise ‘maker unknown’, if it is a reproduction when it was reproduced and based on what timeframe etc. I haven’t yet checked across the road at the NGV International to see if it too is doing the same but would be very excited to find that it was.
Now me being me I couldn’t just leave it at that. I had at ask about why some of the information plates contained frame detail and others didn’t, and what informative and helpful responses I got from the lovely NGV staff. If I’d thought about it for a minute or two I would have figured it out as it’s pretty obvious really. If research has been undertaken on a frame then it can be labelled with what was discovered. I did say it was pretty obvious. I was also directed to an interesting book on the frames in the NGV Collection, titled Framing the Nineteenth Century by John Payne.
One of my favourite frames in this gallery is fitted to Ugo Catani’s Lovers’ walk, Mount Macedon. It is rich, dark, layered, full of detail and fits perfectly with the painting without detracting from it. The frame maker is John Thallon of Melbourne and there are quite a few of his frames in this gallery.
A frame you can’t miss due to the scale of the work (285.7 x 433.0 cm) surrounds John Longstaff’s Arrival of Burke, Wills and King at the deserted camp at Cooper’s Creek, Sunday evening, 21st April 1861 (1907). The frame is mammoth but when you get up close the workmanship is beautiful. I stare in wonder and think of the hours involved in creating each of those leaves and buds, and that’s just the outer layer of the frame.
The works in the Joseph Brown Collection do not contain frame information as they came from a private collection and as I was reminded collectors commonly re-framed works to fit with the appearance of their existing collection. A nice example of this is Rupert Bunny’s Mermaids dancing. Although the painting is from 1896 it’s paired with a clean mid-century frame. Very nice.
Many thanks to Vicki at the NGV library and MaryJo in the Furniture and Frames department for their helpful responses to my email.