In most cases, let the picture determine the frame

DESIGN LINE

November 27, 1994|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

A revival of interest in picture frames, mirror frames, frames of all kinds has been evident for quite a few years. Not long ago, New York's Metropolitan Museum devoted an entire exhibit to frames. It was a little disconcerting, but also very enlightening, to see walls hung with empty frames. That show highlighted the role of frames for a good many visitors.

Artists themselves, including designers and other practitioners of the decorative arts, have always recognized the power of frames. Because a frame can rightly be considered a continuation of a work of art, many artists take great care in applying this finishing touch. Conversely, if a frame is later changed due to someone's stylistic whim, the impact can be devastating.

It is prudent to keep an original frame in place and in good condition. In fact, a frame selected by a well-known artist can be quite valuable, as can frames made by respected craftsmen or carvers. Restored antique frames are also fetching high prices at auction houses.

A few prestigious frame-making shops, such as Eli Wilner & Company in New York, specialize in reproductions of particular historical styles. Early 19th-century American frames, for instance, often featured carvings of ears of corn in their trim.

In most cases, frames are of secondary importance in relation to the objects they delineate. Their size, color and texture should not deflect attention from the work of art. Except in the case of mirrors, frames are supposed to do their job in a subdued and subtle manner rather than competing for the viewer's eye.

How essential is the right kind of frame? Absolutely essential, in the view of experts like Eli Wilner.

When he learned that President Bill Clinton was hanging a flag-filled painting by Childe Hassam in the Oval Office, Mr. Wilner was greatly distressed that such a fine piece of American art was to be displayed inside "a horrible French reproduction frame with a linen liner." Mr. Wilner believed that Hassam, our country's foremost impressionist, probably had a frame designed especially for this painting. After some research, a replica of an original Hassam frame was made and presented to President Clinton.

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