Picture – frame – image: a conference to be held in November 2019

by The Frame Blog

Louis Caravaque (1685-1752), Portrait of Peter the Great, Central Naval Museum, St Petersburg

Russian National Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM)
State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg
The Russian Academy of Arts
St Petersburg State Museum – ‘Tsarskoselskaya kollectsiya’

The International Scientific Conference, ‘Picture – Frame – Image’ will take place at the VIII St Petersburg International Cultural Forum

Date: 11-12th November 2019

Venue: Conference Hall of the State Museum of the History of St Petersburg (The Peter and Paul Fortress, St Petersburg, Russia)

The picture frame, as a valuable piece of decorative art, rarely attracts the attention of specialists; nevertheless, exhibitions of picture frames have been held in various international museums.

These include ‘Regards sur les cadres’ at the Musée du Louvre in 2018, ‘The Sansovino frame’  at the National Gallery, London, in 2015, ‘The art of the picture frame’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London, in 1996-97, and ‘In perfect harmony’ in the Van Gogh Museum in 1995. Two exhibitions of picture frames have been held in Russia: ‘Dress the picture’ in 2005 at the State Russian Museum, and ‘Picture and frame: Dialogues’ in 2014 at the State Tretyakov Gallery. Earlier exhibitions include ‘Prijst de lijst’ at the Rijksmuseum in 1984, and ‘The art of the edge’ at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1986.

In recent years, numbers of monographs and scientific articles have been published in various countries on both the history of picture frames and the problem of the perception of works of art, as mediated by the frame. However, frames need continuing study; and serious scientific discoveries may be made, for example in the area of creating frames for paintings by artists of different eras.

In Russia, the first International Conference to be held on the subject was preceded by a round table discussion organized by ICOM Russia as part of the Intermuseum festival. We hope that the theme of this present conference will attract the attention of both museum specialists and curators, as well as those who study the problem of framing in a cultural and philosophical context.

Raphael (1483-1520), The Conestabile Madonna, c.1504, The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

Programme of the conference: link to downloadable pdf


Abstracts of the papers to be presented 
(there is a link to a downloadable pdf of these abstracts which follows them)

Irina Shalina: Icon and frame

The concepts of icons and frames are in principle incompatible. No ancient icon has anything like a formal restriction of the image from the outside world. The image is placed in a recess, which was not considered as an attempt to link the pictorial field or image placed in it with the outer space. On the contrary, both the fields and the containing border, which fenced off the icon from the upper world, which confirms its name, appeal to the concepts of the old Testament – that is, the idea of salvation, – which gave the icon a symbolic meaning. Its two-dimensional space is refracted, changed in comparison with traditional methods of the ‘new art’, which in contrast to it gave rise to a kind of arbitrary system of transmission of spatial characteristics – the reverse of perspective. The icon painter did not convey visible space but sought to reorganize it on a two-dimensional plane into a complete, self-contained one. The icon image contained in itself all of the universe; its ‘limited’ surface was an unlimited space seen through a door onto the infinite, as if projected into our terrestrial world. Therefore, the icon painter did not need to isolate this space from the wall. However, starting from an early time, the idea of decorative framing gradually gained strength, first going along the sight edge (the canted edge of the border), then persistently moving onto every field. One thing is obvious: the formation of lush Baroque frames on these fields, similar to the carving of iconostases and the icon cases of the late 17th century, meant the destruction of centuries-old traditions of icon painting, the separation of conventional form and its content, and the advent of the art of the New Age.

Charlotte Chastel-Rousseau: The frame store in the Louvre: a repertory of techniques and styles

The Musée du Louvre preserves a major collection of more than 9000 antique frames, remarkable not only by its extent but also by its variety. French and Italian frames, dating from the 15th to the 19th century, are hung next to Dutch, Flemish, Spanish and British pieces, in a very interesting diversity of techniques and styles. Amongst this collection around 3000 empty frames kept in store are currently being studied and inventoried. The unusually high number of frames in store is partly due to the long history of the Louvre and the incessant reframing of the paintings since the opening of the museum in 1793. It is also the result of the ambitious policy of the Painting Department, which actively acquired antique frames during the 20th century, in order to gather reserves for the future and improve the presentation of the paintings in the galleries. This paper briefly addresses the history of the collection and shares the first outcomes of the ongoing inventory of the frame store. Exciting discoveries, as well as difficulties and dilemmas encountered in terms of conservation will be presented. The way this work in progress is presented to the public of the museum, and the changes in the status of frames, from utilitarian decorative objects to patrimonial works of art, will also be discussed.

Oksana Lysenko:  Titian through the eyes of Crozat and Barbarigo: two frames from the Hermitage Collection

Studying the history of collecting fine art , specialists usually ignore the issue of picture framing. As a result, the picture loses (sometimes not only on the pages of books and catalogues, but even in museum rooms) its cultural and historical context – its frame. The knowledge  of the nature of the collection, as well as the views and preferences of the collector, remains incomplete in the absence of information about the frames that he ordered, in accordance with his own vision or following fashion trends.

Amongst the picture of the Hermitage which have retained their original frames are the Danaë and Penitent Mary Magdalene by Titian (above), which were once part of the famous collections of Croz and Barbarigo, purchased by Russian emperors. The carved gilt frame of the Danaë is a typical example of Louis XIV style. The frame of the Mary Magdalene is a unique piece of work by Venetian masters of the late 16th century. It was commissioned by Cristoforo Barbarigo, who wished to present the Titian in a particular way and emphasize its inherent belonging to his family. The decor of the frame, which includes six naked male figures, is connected with the family legend of Barbarigo.

Ekaterina Skvortsova: The painted flower frame of G.K. von Prenner’s ‘Portrait of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna’ (1754, State Tretyakov Gallery): origin, symbolism, context

The portrait of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna by G. K. von Prenner is the only 18th century secular easel portrait in a painted flower frame in Russian art. In terms of symbolism, such portraits of royal sitters enclosed in abundant flowers – which are put together, regardless of the seasonal cycle – appear akin to Rudolph II as Vertumnis by Giuseppe Archimboldo (1591), in which, as Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann convincingly proved, flowers represent the eternal spring of the new Golden Age of the Holy Roman Empire. Despite the different era, such political connotations are implicitly present in the portrait of Elizaveta Petrovna. On the other hand, in Prenner’s portrait the floral frame is also an accessory accentuating the beauty of the model, as in late 17th century French examples, in which this motif loses the sacramental meaning originally inherent to it in Flemish and Dutch art. How present the motif turned out to be at the court of Empress Elizaveta is demonstrated through other forms of art (triumphal arches, painted ceilings, moulded interior decoration, applied art, engraving) in which flower garlands (including those around the initials of the Empress) were quite widespread.

John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), Mrs Isaac Smith, née Elizabeth Storer, 1769, Yale University Art Gallery

William B. Adair: The frame in America

‘A good picture deserves a good frame, and a bad picture may sometimes preserve its place longer by having a handsome frame.’ (Charles Willson Peale,b1741-1827)

‘Every artist suffers from a chronic lack of suitable frames.’ (William Glackens, 1870-1938)

Like other forms of American decorative art, American picture frames are a curious hybrid of European styles. Drawing upon information from my forty-seven years in the historic framing and conservation field, this paper will examine the pre-eminent frame designs from American Colonial, Federal, Empire, Victorian, and Modernist periods. The frames surveyed here will illustrate the form and style of each region, show how artists and collectors used frames to influence the aesthetic of the paintings they contained, and illuminate how frames can convey unique information about a painting, artist, or collector not found elsewhere.

Despite the individualist patchwork of cross-cultural stylistic influences from immigrant artisans, there gradually emerged basic regional characteristics of American frame design. These trends were due to a number of factors, including the absence of trade guilds, which strictly regulated stylistic development in Europe. Another factor was a lack of readily available traditional moulding profiles and exotic framing materials. From these conditions emerged a trend towards simplicity and strength in design. Framemakers took what was useful from traditional European frame designs, and then modified them to suit individual tastes and circumstances. Sometimes, in urban areas like New York, Boston and Philadelphia, frames were made with great refinement, using freehand execution and traditional workshop integrity, while in other instances, especially in rural workshops, they were crudely fashioned with found wood and decorated with few embellishments. This presentation will demonstrate how the individual creative spirit of immigrant artisans led to the evolution of a distinctive American frame design.

Aleksey Guzanov: Frames in the interiors of the Pavlovsk Palace

Frames play an important role in the palace interior. These include frames for paintings, for framing tapestries and carpets hanging on the walls, for graphic works and miniatures, and for mosaics.

In the Pavlovsk Palace during World War II, the frames were hardly evacuated at all, and as a result disappeared during the occupation by German and Spanish troops. Frames were either stolen or burned during the fire of the palace in 1944. But, nevertheless, the few frames which were evacuated and preserved are the pride of the collection. During the restoration of the palace after the war in Pavlovsk, special attention was paid to the restoration of the frames.

Models were made from photographs, and from these the lost frames for large portraits and for tapestries and carpets on the walls were recreated. An interior which is particularly important for the richness of its paintings and drawings, and even original frames, is the Common Study on the first floor of the palace. It contains two really magnificent carved and gilded French frames of the second half of the 18th century for two portraits of Henry IV, copies after Frans Pourbus the Younger. Six frames on works by the owner of the palace, Empress Maria Fyodorovna, have been preserved in this study. And an unique masterpiece is a gilded bronze frame depicting the papal coat of arms in the cartouche of Cesare Aguatti’s mosaic View of the Coliseum – a gift from Pope Pius VI to the owner of the palace when he was travelling in Europe. On his return to Pavlovsk, the mosaic was placed in the Crimson Study of the palace, on a wide window slope on the south side, where it is to this day.

Anna Nikiforova and Nina Stadnichuk: The taste of the royal hostess of Pavlovsk: some unusual frames

The influence of the artistic outlook of the Grand Duchess, later Empress Maria Fyodorovna (1759-1828), on the creation of the palace and park ensemble in Pavlovsk is widely known. It was reflected both in the layout of the main areas of the park and the construction of the Grand Palace and pavilions, as well as in the design of interiors. Maria Fedorovna, being herself a great lover of fine art, was fond of drawing on milk glass, carving on stone, ivory and amber, as well as making medals.

The famous journey across Europe in 1781-82 of the young couple, Pavel Petrovich and Maria Fedorovna, played a special rôle in the formation of the Grand Duchess’s taste. During this Grand Tour, the travellers paid particular attention to Italy – the cradle of classical art. How the hostess of Pavlovsk used one of the many souvenirs brought from Italy when decorating the picture frames intended for her own works will be discussed in the first part of the paper.

One of the symbols of the era of the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna in Pavlovsk is rightfully the Pavilion des Roses. The second part of the paper is devoted to the unusual framing of porcelain plates which decorated the walls of the this building in the first quarter of the 19th century.

Aisulu Shukurova: Picture frames in the historical collection of the Gatchina Palace

The frame is an important part of the perception of a painting. Unfortunately, until recently, researchers did not pay due attention to this; and the description of a frame was made in the most general terms (materials and manufacturing technique). In museum inventories, descriptions were slightly more detailed, including dimensions and inventory numbers. Under the reign of Nicholas I large portrait galleries had been created in the Gatchina Palace, and the pictures for these galleries were selected by personal order of the emperor. It is interesting that in the Gothic Gallery the frames of the portraits were integrated with the architectural decoration, oak frames being produced by ‘Court furniture factory A. Tour and son’. The study of these frames in the historical collection of the Gatchina Palace needs further research.

Olga Frolova: The historical collection of picture frames in the Estate of Archangelskoe Prince  N.B. Yusupov

The attribution of picture frames on the basis of archival documents allows us to use works of decorative and applied art with reliably confirmed dates and provenance  as reference samples for further research.

A rare example of an entire collection of art frames survives in The State Museum of Arkhangelskoe, the history of which is verified by documentary evidence. In 1810, Prince N. B. Yusupov acquired the Arkhangelskoe estate near Moscow and placed most of his art collection here. The Palace – in particular, a whole wing of the building – was intended to hold a representative display for visitors to the Prince’s art gallery. In order to frame this display appropriately, the prince also established a carpenter’s workshop in the estate, where 109 picture frames were made and gilded over two years (1814-1816).

Most of the paintings in the state rooms of the Arkhangelskoe Palace have been preserved in their original frames to this day. Their decoration, generally unnoticed by spectators, determined the appearance of the palace interiors. These frames reflect the owner’s perception of the paintings in his favorite collection, and at the same time illustrate the contemporary view of the imperial reigns of Alexander and Nicholas.

Pauline Michaud: Looking for the ‘right effect’: framing paintings in museums in the first half of the 20th century

Between 1935 and 1956, Germain Bazin, curator at the Musée du Louvre, oversaw the reframing of paintings  in  the  museum. Following Wilhelm  von  Bode’s  recommendations for  the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, he instituted an acquisition policy for purchasing antique frames, and initiated the restoration and adaptation of old frames: all of which need to be examined to understand this part of the history of the Louvre collection.

The frame collection is now composed of original antique frames, adaptations, and also new frames commissioned from old designs. Their associations with the paintings is a very important issue for understanding the status of the frame within the museum. In fact, the question of authenticity and the search for the ‘right effect’ is key here.

The emphasis of the link between the creation date of a painting and its ‘authentic’ frame has led to a new historical discourse on art: one which we would like to discuss during this conference. Furthermore,  because  of its ambiguous  status – particularly in  the  museum  context – the perception of the frame within the museum space is not obvious. Indeed, the frame does not entirely lose its function when it enters the museum, which distinguishes it from other objects in the collection.

Emil Nolde, Slovenes, 1911, in frame designed by the artist

Marianne Saal: Artist’s frames – the original frames of Die Brücke

‘I myself have experimented much with frames of all kinds, because the usual plaster frames have something reprehensibly fake about them’. These words, from a letter written by Emil Nolde to the collector Carl Hagemann on the 6th February 1912, describe an innovative movement which is representative of the approach to framing at the beginning of the 20th century. Nolde was, like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel, Otto Mueller and Max Pechstein, a member of the group Die Brücke, who found their own methods of breaking with the tradition of gilt frames.

The artists themselves designed frames for their paintings, carving them with ornaments and colouring them to harmonize with the paintings. Frame and painting were seen as an overall composition, which inevitably had an impact on both the frame profiles and the finishes. The original frames by the members of Die Brücke  are early artists’ frames, the design of which was individual to each artist, and which continued beyond the actual period of Die Brücke, from 1905 to 1913. An exhibition, Never apart:. frames and paintings by Die Brücke will be held in 2019 in the Brücke Museum, Berlin, and in 2020 at the Buchheim Museum, Bernried. For the first time, the special meaning and influence of these designs for picture framing in the early years of the 20th century will be examined. The exhibition is curated by Werner Murrer, owner of the frame studio Werner Murrer Rahmen in Munich, in co-operation with the Brücke Museum Berlin and the Buchheim Museum in Bernried.

Ekaterina Evseeva: Picture frames in the Collection of I.E. Tsvetkov

The production of frame workshops in the late 19th century, and the character of private commissions by collectors and artists, have not yet been sufficiently researched by art historians. The rôle of the framemakers in these workshops and their involvement in the modern art process are of particular interest.

Our research is dedicated to the frame commissions of the famous Russian collector I.E. Tsvetkov. Working on the catalogue produced in the Tsvetkov Gallery for a small exhibition held there, we found some references to the names of framemakers in documents originating from the Tsvetkov archive. Eventually we were able to identify picture frames made by the workshops of A. Grabier and A. Mo for this collection.

The design of these frames was associated with various patterns which could also be seen in photographs of the Tsvetkov Gallery. This was important for our research into the function and rôle of the picture frame in the domestic interior.

Marina Levinskaya: Frames in the interior of the Cottage Palace in the Alexandria Park, Peterhof: interior reconstruction – before and after

The Cottage is a ‘countryside palace’ designed and built by the architect A. Menelas in 1829 for Nicholas I. Since its construction, and until 1917, the Cottage was a private imperial residence. According to archival records, the walls were decorated with frames in various styles, and carved rosettes were used to fix the paintings on the walls.

At the beginning of the Great Patriotic War most of the museum pieces were evacuated, except for the frames, which could not be saved; almost all of them were lost. Only one frame has survived,  from the Cottage Living Room, along with three authentic rosettes from interiors on the ground and first floors. Photographs from the 1930s were of great importance for this reconstructive research, since the descriptions in archival documents are very few.

In 1974, based on the existing iconography, Irina Benois developed a project for recreating frames in the Gothic style for paintings by Dutch artists from the cabinet of Nicholas I. The display of such paintings in authentic frames is essential for the perceptual unity, not only of the paintings, but of the interior as a whole.

Anna Ivannikova: A Gothic frame for a late religious subject: the painting of St George the Victorious of 1842 from the Hermitage Collection and its creator

An unusual image of St George was recently discovered in the State Hermitage Museum. It was painted in 1842 by Gerhardt Wilhelm von Reutern in partnership with Vasily Zhukovsky – one of the brightest representatives of the Romantic era. This painting has been repeatedly mentioned in various publications in connection with the poem by Vasily Zhukovsky, ‘July 1, 1842’; however, the location of the painting and the history of its creation were hitherto unknown.

The unusual attributes of the Holy warrior in the painting (wreaths of roses and laurel), as well as the date of the creation of the work – 1842 – leave no doubt that it was intended as a gift for the silver wedding of Nicholas I and Alexandra Fedorovna. The painting of St George is framed in the popular NeoGothic style, of which the Empress was very fond, and the birth dates of the Imperial children are inscribed in the margin of the frame.

Nikita Balagurov: ‘An exhibition of a canvas in 145 frames’: towards a social history of  the Peredvizhniki movement

Rather than approaching the Peredvizhniki travelling art exhibitions in terms of the acquaintanceship of the public in St Petersburg, Moscow and the provinces with contemporary Russian art, my paper analyzes these exhibitions as the loci of symbolic consumption. Paradoxically, it was mainly the picture frames which took on this symbolic function, rather than the paintings themselves. My argument is based on literary sources: letters of the artists, critical essays, and the feuilletons of the second half of the 19th century. A gilded frame above a sofa turned to be one of the most typical decorative elements in petit bourgeois living-rooms, as perceived by the Russian writers of the period. The adjectives they used to describe the picture frames were so indicative of the social trajectories of the apartments’ owners that few authors ever even mentioned the paintings which were so framed. The Peredvizhniki were aware of the capacity of the picture frame to symbolize the social aspirations of provincial art lovers, and were at pains to have their paintings exhibited adequately in the more remote regions of Russia, which caused ironic comments amongst some feuilletonistes.

Svetlana Solovieva: The artist’s frame: from sketch to realization

This paper will be based mainly on the examples of works made by Russian artists in the second part of the 19th and early 20th centuries in the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery.

Many painters were already thinking about a future frame when they were still sketching ideas for the picture. We can find traces of these reflections in the graphic legacies of painters such as V. G. Perov, V. D. Polenov, V. M. Vasnetsov, G. I. Semiradsky, M. A. Vrubel, V. E. Borisov-Musatov, and others. This visualization of the frame at such an early stage in the concept of the picture highlights its great importance, and the creative participation of the artist in its design. Amongst the artist’s studies we can often find sheets with decorative elements, which might later be included in the ornament of the frame. There is also the evidence of letters, in which the artist might give specific instructions and even provide drawings for the decoration of a frame; such, for example, as the letter from Polenov to his close friend, the frame designer Anton Grabier in the Department of Manuscripts in the State Tretyakov Gallery. Many artists might even draw the profile of a projected frame. Perhaps not all such sketches were eventually realized, but the idea of a single complex picture frame accompanies the creative process in a surprising number of works.

Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin ( 1842-1904 )

Elena Kim: The frames of V.V. Vereshchagin’s Russian Series paintings: new facts

V.V. Vereshchagin attached great importance to the frames of his paintings, which was ‘a part of their creation’ (O.A. Lysenko). It is reflected in the artist’s writings, in his correspondence, and in other documents.

The names of the framemakers’ workshops and even of some woodcarvers with whom the artist worked have been discovered, and we also know that in some cases the frames for Vereshchagin’s Russian series paintings were made following the artist’s intentions and using his drawings. However, the carved frames for these particular paintings still require to be attributed and dated. Some statements which have become commonly accepted – for instance, that ‘the frames of these paintings were made according to the artist’s drawings and can be found in the country’s national museums’ (O.U. Tarasov) – need to be substantiated.

Documents recently found in the State Archives of the Yaroslavl region let us establish a number of specific facts. These derive from receipts and bills directly concerning Vereshchagin’s payments to the Rostov woodcarvers in 1888-92. Based on analysis of these facts and information from other documents, together with that from articles previously published, the number of frames made by the Rostov woodcarvers could be calculated, and their dimensions ascertained. Furthermore, the contribution of V.V. Vereshchagin and I.A. Shlyakov to their design could also be established.

Yulia Demidenko: Art Nouveau frames: a statement of intent

Despite the continuing interest of art historians over the past half-century in Art Nouveau in all its various national manifestations, frames in this style have not attracted the attention of many professionals. This paper outlines the main points for potential research:

  1. Major artists of the period produced some of the best examples of Art Nouveau frames: for example, Franz von Stuck, who designed the frames for his paintings, whilst frames for looking-glasses, photographs and graphic works were created by artists of the Vienna Secession.
  2. Typically Art Nouveau frames were intended mainly for graphic work, photographs, and applied decorative work; in other words they reflected the collecting directions of the new democratic era.
  3. Both mass produced and hand-crafted frames had features typical of contemporary furniture; for example, pieces in which the frame for a graphic work was combined with a shelf, a hanger, etc.
  4. Art Nouveau frames are distinguished by a variety of materials: wood, metal, and combinations of mixed elements; and a wide range of decorative techniques, such as carving, gilding, painting, inlaid metal plates with embossing, punching, colored glass inserts, etc. In their decoration and finish an extremely rich set of ornamental motifs and techniques is obvious: natural features, women’s and children’s heads and figures, &c., as well as the widely-used principle of asymmetry.
  5. The motif of an integral frame or border is widespread in the graphic arts. Accordingly, drawings and prints provided models for actual picture frames or inspiration for the artists.

Nikita Agranovsky: A squash, hyperrealism, and plank frames: a 1901 American short story as a premonition of Modernism

The turn of the 20th century sees the beginning of American art synchronizing with that of Europe. This process touches not only upon the artworks themselves, but also their framing. From the mid-1880s, avant-garde European art becomes available to the American public, including Impressionism with its novel perception of the world and its coloured picture frames. However, both artists and viewers in the USA maintain their loyalty to representational art and conventional gilded frames. This makes the 1901 H.B. Fuller short story ‘Dr. Gowdy and the squash’ all the more fascinating. In a blend of grotesquerie and dystopia a man from the Arts & Crafts period combines the worship of naturalism with a lack of artistic taste, creating consequences reminiscent of Signac’s satire of Zola. The details of the story are of even greater interest to us – that is to say the paintings and frames created by the main character. They reveal both a parody of American art, and a veritable Jules Vernesque premonition of two artistic techniques of the future – the assemblage and the installation. This presentation gives an overview of both the European and the American contexts which gave birth to this short story while exploring the rôle of framing within it.

Irina Fedotova: The design of a double-sided frame for the ‘Pscovityanka’ by Konstantin Rozhdestvensky: a reconstruction of the author’s method

Whilst studying the artistic culture of the 20th century, the museum pays special attention to framing as a mediator between the pictorial space and the exhibition space. This paper presents a draft design of a compound double-sided frame for Pscovityanka by Konstantin Rozhdestvensky (1930s; on the reverse is Still life). As it is one of the key items in the collection, this painting embodies the evolution of the innovative search for the structures of artistic space which began in the State Institute of Artistic Culture (GInHuK).

Rozhdestvensky was devoted for most of his artistic life to exhibition design,  and he himself took a keen interest in the problem of the viewer’s perception of the paintings in the museum. This interest manifested itself in his theoretical work, as well as in his designs for picture frames. However, nowadays only a few of Rozhdestvensky’s sketches survive to give us some insight into the artist’s general approach to the subject. Thus our attempts to reconstruct this particular frame are based on the practical study of the artist’s ‘pictorial and plastic system’ (transition from Suprematism through the curve to the concept of spherical space). Each moulded profile of the double frame implements in volume the spatial concept of the visual image it embraces, while the unity of both profiles in one form is in keeping with the artist’s search for a universal plastic form.

Andrey Khlobystin: ‘Poverty is the Mother of all Arts’, or portals to the world of beauty: A frame in the work of the artistic avant-garde of Leningrad/St Petersburg in the 1980s-90s

Zernov writes of the motif of the window in German Romanticism as a symbolic transition from the inner space of a person to a limitless world. In the 19th century artists tried to go beyond the picture to the ‘real’ world. In their own way, this outlet to reality was understood amongst both the Wanderers and the Impressionists. H. Wölfflin, who traveled around Italy with a camera and shot Baroque churches, is sometimes regarded as a model of European optics-centrism. European optics was influenced by the interest in exotic art, primarily of South-East Asia. In the 20th century, the frame became a symbol of mental, optical, and social limitation, as indicated by the Dadaists and Surrealists. Extending the scope of art in the form of an object, installation, performance, etc. cancelled out the frame along with the painting.

But, on the one hand, the frame began to be played out in conceptualism, and on the other, a return to the ‘new figurative art’ at the turn of the 1970s-80s turned artists back to this element. Western graffiti artists, first of all, J.-M. Basquiat and the Leningrad ‘New Artists’ (V. Ovchinnikov, I. Savchenkov, and others), created unusual frames, often due to the banal wretchedness of the available materials. Paper, braid, household items, etc. were used. The painting once more began to strive to burst through its borders and merge with life: graffiti covered walls, subway cars, and the body. The theme of the Romantic ‘transition’ was returned by the ‘Zero Object’ of T. Novikov and I. Sotnikov, echoing the ‘void canon’ of I. Kabakov.

Anastasia Lavrova: On the question of the study and restoration of historical frames from the collection of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts

The collection of picture frames in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts includes more than 2,000 pieces, and is inextricably linked with the museum’s collection of paintings. The main period of the acquisition of paintings and frames took place in the 1920s-30s; however, the frames were defined as a separate museum сollection only in 2011.

During the 20th century paintings were reframed, sometimes having changed their frames repeatedly; that is why one of the responsibilities of a curator is the identification of the artist’s (or original) frames, and the subsequent generation(s) of frames. Those on paintings by artists of different schools and periods, such as Giovanni Santi, Justus Sustermans, Jean-Auguste-Domenique Ingres, Heinrich Friedrich Füger, Félix-Francois Georges Philibert Ziem, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida and many others, serve as good examples of these.

Another method of approach is to select a frame which is appropriate to a certain painting in style and era; for example, for the works of Rembrandt, Vincenzo Catena, or Cristofano Allori.

The restoration of these frames, aimed not only at conserving them, but also at conducting a scientific research into them, is among the newest of the museum’s projects; however, some outstanding results have already been obtained. Amongst them is the attribution of the frame for a painting by Lorenzo Monaco, which had been considered a replica dating from the 19th century and is now considered as dating from the beginning of the 15th century.

Elena Sinelnikova and Dmitriy Sinelnikov: The restoration of two looking-glass frames by Pavel Spol from the Arkhangelskoye Estate Collection

These two frames, measuring 340 x 148 x 9 cm., were carved in Pavel Spol’s Moscow workshop between 1780-90. Before 1810 the looking-glasses were presumably kept in one of Prince Nikolai Yusupov’s residences. After the purchase by the prince of the Arkhangelskoye estate in September 1810, the frames were hung on the piers between the windows in the Antique Hall of the Palace. Following restoration work at the Palace in 1985 the glasses were moved to a steam-heated storage facility, where they were kept until June 2009. That year they were once again moved to the Tiepolo Hall of the Palace for restoration. There appeared to be no written record of any previous restoration work on the two pieces. The frames were accompanied by a box containing about 70 fragments of carved ornament and flakes of gilding, almost all of which belonged to the same frame. The work began with that frame.  Because of their large size the glasses remained inside their frames, while the ornament was partly dismantled on one of them.  The work resulted in the full restoration of all composition ornament on the vertical sides of the frame with the exception of one element.

Irina Vesnina: The restoration of the carved giltwood frame of the Ceremonial portrait of the daughters of Emperor Nicholas I, Grand Duchesses Maria and Olga

This paper is devoted to the restoration of the antique frame on the painting by T. Neff, Ceremonial portrait of the daughters of Emperor Nicholas I, Grand Duchesses Maria and Olga, 1838 (133x103cm.), from the collection of the State Russian Museum.

For many years, the painting was stored and exhibited in a temporary baguette frame. As it turned out, this painting has its own original frame, but in a very compromised state of preservation: a movable structure, numerous chips and losses of carved elements, various cracks, focal delamination and loss of gesso with gilding: and all this under a dense layer of compressed contaminants, almost completely hiding the color and lustre of the gilding.

At the end of 2018, during the preparation for the exhibition Nicholas I, the carved and gilded frame of this portrait underwent a comprehensive restoration. The work was carried out by restorers from three departments of the State Russian Museum. The combination of different processes in different areas allowed the restorers to complete the work very punctually.

Frame and estampille by Jean Chérin, c.1760-70, collection Paul Mitchell

Lynn Roberts: A world-wide database of picture framemakers

I would like to propose the creation of a freely-accessible online database of carvers, gilders and picture framemakers of all kinds, based on the model of the Directory of British Picture Framemakers, 1600-1950, on the National Portrait Gallery (London) website. Instituted in 1998 and maintained by its founder, Jacob Simon, it has grown to significant proportions, including every craftsman for whom there are enough verifiable facts known and identifiable frames in existence.

There is by now a large number of named framemakers from almost every era and many different countries who can be linked to specific frames, artists or patrons, and the outlines of whose lives are known. Some of them are also known more widely as architects, furniture makers or figural sculptors; except for such rôles, most of them are overlooked by mainstream art history.

An illustrated online database would not only prove of inestimable value for research purposes; it would help to raise the appreciation of the framemaker, and would perhaps finally stimulate a realization – in museums and teaching institutions – of the importance of historical context for paintings.

Abstracts of papers: link to downloadable pdf


Contact:       Oksana A. Lysenko – lysenko-oks@mail.ru

Osip Braz (1873-1936), Portrait of Count Dmitri Ivanovich Tolstoy, Director of the Hermitage 1909-18, o/c, 1901, carved oak Art Nouveau frame, State Russian Museum, St Petersburg