Frames from the collection of the Richard Green Gallery: Part I
by The Frame Blog
A sale to be held online by Sotheby’s, London, from 30 March to 5 April 2023
Richard Green opened his first gallery in 1955, and has been in business ever since – now owning two galleries in New Bond Street, where he, his brother, sister and two further generations are taking the firm forward into its next seventy years. During its growth it has accumulated a striking collection of antique frames, as a working pool from which to reframe paintings more suitably, or to act as models for hand-carved replicas, or into which discarded but valuable items have swum. The collection has grown so large that a careful selection of frames has now been made from its ranks which will form two important sales at Sotheby’s, London, in March and October 2023.
The frames chosen date from the 17th to the late 19th century, and include French, British and a few Italian designs; there are also some fine drawing or print frames. The current sale contains more than a hundred and twenty lots, both of museum quality and also ideal for the private collector owning less than perfectly framed paintings. Many could happily be hung by themselves, as decorative and beautiful pieces of sculpture; some might also be used for looking-glasses. A large proportion are untouched, retaining their original gilding – a rare bonus in a sector of the arts where frames have historically moved from painting to painting at the whim of fashion, and suffered repeated alterations.
Lot 1: a fine French Louis XIII carved and gilded fruitwood frame, second half 17th century, 23.7 x 16.5 cm.; convex profile with flowered back edge; undulating sprays of leaves and berries, leaf buds, and sprigs of flowers on a hatched ground, with acanthus leaf corners; cavetto; ribbon-&-stave at sight edge; original gilding
For example, this small Louis XIII frame has not been altered or regilded; it retains all its original clarity, lightly patinated by time. It is carved in shallow relief but flowing naturalistic detail with acanthus and primula flowers – probably auriculas, for which there was a craze in the 17th century – and might have been made for a flowerpiece, perhaps containing a simple pot of auriculas. Peter Schade has suggested that it would also suit something like one of the small works by the Le Nain brothers, the gentle undulation of movement around the frame created by the curve of leaf and scroll acting as the perfect foil to the static sitters in their peasant scenes.
Antoine Le Nain (1588-1648), The village piper, 1642, 22.5 x 30.5 cm., Detroit Institute of Arts; montaged with Lot 1
Lot 35: a French Louis XIV carved giltwood frame, second half 17th century, 40.3 x 27.9 cm.
Also in the sale is an almost contemporary, smallish but very beautifully carved and finished example of a French Louis XIV frame with a convex profile. It is decorated with corner scrolling foliate cartouches holding fanned lambrequins and leaf buds, from which little sprays of flowers or rinceaux grow towards the leafy strapwork and bud centres.
Jean Bérain I (1640-1711), ornamental print, from a collection of 146 by Bérain I & II, c.1710, Sotheby’s, 15 December 2020, Lot 48
This type of ornament is known as ‘Bérainesque’, after the designer and ornemaniste, Jean Bérain the elder, whose engravings were widely diffused during the 17th century, inspiring a generation or more of artists and craftsmen to adapt them for tapestries, silverware, painted wall panels, furniture, ormolu mounts, and – of course – frames.
Lot 35, corner detail
In this particular frame the background to the carved ornament has been recut, adding to the textural interest and richness of the whole: in other words, the layer of gesso which covers the carved wood and receives the gold leaf is incised with patterns – diapering at the corners and centres, cross-hatching on the main convex moulding, and hatching beneath the undulating strapwork and leaf-bud decoration at the sight edge. Each tiny flower has a hollowed centre, and is recut (like the leaves) with veining. The width of the rails – they are about 25 cm. across – gives importance to the painting they might contain (a portrait head?), isolates it from the outside world and focuses the spectator’s attention on it; whilst the untouched patina infuses the ornament with a subtle flicker of light and shade. These frames are immensely sophisticated partners in the work of art as a whole.
Lots 14 and 13: Louis XIII-XIV carved giltwood flower corner frames, convex profile, second half 17th century; Lot 14, 44 x 36 cm.; with foliated fanned lambrequin, sunflower and floretted corners; shaped reposes; cavetto; panels of acanthus tip at centres of sight edge; Lot 13, 80 x 63.4 cm.; with dentils at back edge; foliated fanned lambrequin corners, with sunflowers, narcissi, roses, violet and florets; shaped reposes incised with strapwork, leaf buds and rinceaux; cavetto; cavetto with centre panels carved with acanthus leaf tip at sight edge; original gilding
One of the most charming and decorative of styles, there are several examples of the flower corner frame in the collection. The fanned lambrequin motif which distinguishes this pattern is also found in Bérain’s designs; it is taken from ornamental valances (upper left, here; and right, here). It is used instead of an acanthus leaf to anchor the corner, from which flowers spring with a greater or lesser degree of naturalism.
Lots 14 and 13, corner details
The flowers always include sunflowers, the motif which came to be associated with Louis XIV, but which is also the flower of Apollo, god of the arts; and any others from amongst roses, narcissi, paeonies, primulas and violets, as well as other more generalized flowers. A late and splendidly sculptural example can be seen in action, so to speak, in the Musée du Louvre, where it has been used to frame Watteau’s Pierrot, previously known as Gilles, c. 1718-19; it responds to the forms of dress and the pastoral setting. Another, equally magnificent version frames the portrait of the flower painter, Catherine Duchemin, recently acquired by the Palais de Versailles; this frame is lavishly decorated with clusters of the flowers which were her subjects, and – since she was the wife of the sculptor, François Girardon – it may be that he was involved in the opulent design.
Even a slightly more modest flower corner frame, like those in the collection, might also be hung by itself or used to hold a looking-glass, creating a decorative sculptural highlight on the wall.
Lot 56: A fine provincial (southern) French Louis XIV-style carved giltwood frame, c. 1700, 97 x 143.5 cm.; made from poplar; convex profile; imbricated leaf at the back edge; delicate foliate C-scrolled decoration with leaf buds and floral sprigs on a cross-hatched ground; scrolling foliate projecting corners with leaves on a diapered ground; sanded frieze; panels of foliate ornament on the ogee at the sight edge; original gilding
Parisian silver-gilt beaker with Bérainesque decoration, 1713-14, 10.2 cm. high, Metropolitan Museum, New York
The Louis XIV style produced a great variety of frames in different sizes and scales, the larger examples suitable for landscapes with mythological or religious scenes, large decorative still life subjects, and full-length portraits. The treatment of Bérainesque ornament on these frames reached a high point of compositional and sculptural skill, organizing the flow of strapwork contours, foliate and other motifs, and cartouches with textured grounds, to produce a subtle play of light and animation, and executing them with a refinement of touch which could hardly be achieved in any other medium. Their ornamental style might, in many cases, be the fulcrum on which the decoration of a whole interior might turn, from the façade of a cabinet to the moulding and engraving of a wine beaker.
However, this is also the kind of frame which, for well over a century, the actions of early dealers have accustomed us to think of as the archetypal ‘Impressionist frame’. Renoir never really stopped preferring antique patterns for his work (Rococo for choice), but after their first, economically-driven flirtation with avant-garde plain white or coloured architrave mouldings, most of the group returned to using contemporary ‘Salon’ styles or other classical designs, carved and gilded, and decorated with plaster ornament.
Monet in his studio with the duc de Trévise and frames, 1920 (collection RMN)
Today the greater part of their work is displayed in original Louis XIV frames; and Lot 56 is certainly an immaculate candidate for showing off an Impressionist landscape, garden scene or figural group.
Philippe de Champaigne (1602-74), Portrait de Jérôme Bignon, 1664, 77.7 x 62.5 cm., Sotheby’s Paris, 10 November 2021, Lot 71, in a Louis XIV frame
In their own time, the smaller versions of Louis XIV portrait frames surrounded the sitters with a wide margin of golden filigree lace, like this example: fitted at some point to a painting by Philippe de Champaigne by the addition of an extra carved sight edge, in order to keep the magical foil of precious, intricate, light-catching carving to offset the swathes of plain colour – crimson, black, Van Dyke brown.
Lot 57: A late 17th century French Louis XIV carved giltwood frame (altered); 76.6 x 56.8 cm.; ogee profile; with cabochon chain at the back edge; scrolling foliate strapwork cartouches at the corners, centres and demi-centres holding fanned lambrequins in the corners, otherwise leaf buds, with a diapered and punchwork ground to the corners and centres; joined by foliated C-scrolls on the ogee on a cross-hatched ground; cavetto crossed by the cartouches; undulating acanthus and buds on a hatched ground at the sight edge; original gilding
Lot 57 montaged with Jacques d’Agar (attrib.;) Ulrike Eleonora of Denmark, 1677, o/c, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm Photo: Bodil Karlsson
The frame in Lot 57 will have been commissioned for the portrait of someone of equal status to Jérôme Bignon, who was Advocate General to the Parlement of Paris and Master of the King’s Library, and whose original frame must have been of similar grandeur – even, perhaps, as imagined here – appropriate for royalty.
Lots 20, 22 and 21: British Baroque Louis XIV-style frames with ogee profiles: Lot 20: with scrolling foliate strapwork and leaf buds on a cross-hatched ground and acanthus leaf corners; frieze; egg-&-dart sight edge; 73.8 x 61.2 cm.; Lot 22: with flowered back edge; scrolling strapwork and leaf bud on the ogee, with foliate cartouche corners with rosettes; plain frieze; acanthus tip and shell sight edge; 74 x 61.6 cm.; Lot 21: with scrolling foliage and florets on the ogee, with pierced foliate and shell cartouches with rosettes in the corners and centres; sanded frieze; acanthus tip and shell sight edge; 75.8 x 49.5 cm.
British frames in this style are not, perhaps, as sophisticated, as rich in detailed motifs or as full of varied textures recut in the gesso; the carving is flatter and more uniform, and the corners idiosyncratically un-Bérainesque; however, they are full of charm, and, displayed en masse, often formed an impressive hang of family portraits or collection of landscapes in a 17th century interior.
Arthur Devis (formerly attrib.; 1712-87), The Buckley-Boar Family, 1758-60, o/c, 98.4 x 110.5 cm., with detail of background paintings; Yale Center for British Art
In Devis’s group portrait, the family of the Buckley-Boars is posed in a withdrawing-room or parlour surrounded by just such a hang of landscapes and marines; and – as lightening the image reveals – whilst the arrangement is centred on a Rococo frame with scrolling sides, the other works have straight sides and projecting corners, like the frames in Lots 21 and 22.
Arthur Devis (1712-87), Portrait of a gentleman, 1755, o/c, 76.1 x 63.7cm., Sotheby’s 14 December 2021, Lot 52
Devis framed his own portraits in this contemporary style, the calligraphic ornament suiting his small figures and landscape settings; but it was used again in the 20th century – for example, John Singer Sargent put his Diploma work (the required presentation for becoming a Royal Academician) into an antique 18th century British Baroque frame. Similarly, Sir John Lavery, who preferred to use antique or revival styles for his work, used a modern revival of a Louis XIV-style frame for his portrait of Dr Max Borges, also in the Royal Academy collection.
Lot 18: A fine late 17th-century British Baroque carved giltwood frame; convex profile; with flowered back edge; undulating acanthus, leaf buds and floretted sprigs on the top edge and acanthus leaf corners; cavetto; acanthus tip at the sight edge; 163 x 142.8 cm.; shown with a detail of Daniel Mytens, William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, pre-1630, in a similar frame with ogee profile, second & third quarters 18th century; Audley End, Essex
In the sale a linear version of this British Baroque style, without corner cartouches and with a continuous flowing pattern of undulating acanthus leaves, floral sprigs and leaf buds carved around it, provides a rare opportunity to acquire a very large example of a country house style, in use from the 1670s or 1680s until the mid-18th century, but which – as with the Lavery and Sargent – might be equally at home on an early 20th century British painting.
Lot 87: A mid-18th century French Rococo carved giltwood frame; concave profile with cabochon chain at the back edge; S-scrolling rails; complex layered rocaille and cabochon corners; rocaille cartouches at the centres, with diapered ground, the rocailles clasping the sight edge; small frieze; acanthus tip and leaf bud sight edge; 79.8 x 63 cm.
Lot 86: A mid-18th century French Rococo carved giltwood frame; concave profile with cabochon chain at the back edge; S-scrolling rails; rocaille and cabochon corners; scrolling rocaille centres; trailing rinceaux in the hollow; sanded frieze; acanthus tip and leaf bud sight edge; 79.1 x 63.5 cm.; shown with Louis XV carved giltwood console, c. 1745, Sotheby’s, 18 May 2021, Lot 33
There are some fine Rococo frames in the collection, as well – French, British and Italian. The French versions are perhaps the most developed and sculptural examples of the framemaker’s art; the plasticity of the corner and centre cartouches with their layered, undercut ornaments is lifted by the dynamism and airy energy of the watery rocaille motifs. These are opulent sculptures, richly decorated, with added texture imparted by the skillful recutting process; but the richness is constantly held in check by the tension between scrolling curves and bands of linear ornament.
Frames like these would, like so many styles, form part of an integrated interior, with carved wall-panelling or boiseries; tables, sofas and chairs; carpets, vases and silverwork.
Lot 89: A rare pair of fine mid-18th century French Rococo carved and gilded walnut frames in landscape format; possibly provincial and of unusual pattern; with rectinlinear contour at back edge; peaked and scalloped top rail; asymmetric foliate and rocaille corners trailing small floral festoons; alternating astragal and cavetto stepped to sight edge; 97 x 72.7 cm.
In the most flamboyant examples of high Rococo style, the corners and/or centres were given a flyaway asymmetry which emphasized their organic origins, in opposition to the ordered symmetry of classical design. This stunning pair of frames echoes its own skewed rocaille corner motifs in the striated, wavy effect of the rails which join them, an unusual pattern of stepped astragals and hollows creating a continuous flux and flow around the contour of the frames, like a river of molten metal. These must have been commissions for a specific pair of paintings: landscapes, but with some particular theme to do with rivers or water; perhaps mythological subjects, such as Apollo and Daphne (daughter of the river-god, Peneus), and Pan and Syrinx (daughter of the river-god, Ladon).
Lot 103: A British Rococo carved giltwood frame; concave profile; with foliate back edge; S-scrolling rails; pierced scrolling foliate corners with applied rosettes; scrolling foliate and rocaille centres; leaf bud demi-centres; rocaille in the hollow; sanded frieze; acanthus tip sight edge; 125.2 x 105.5 cm.; montaged with William Hogarth, George Arnold, 1738-40, 90.5 x 70.8 cm., Fitzwilliam Museum
British Rococo frames are notable for their lightness and slender rails, as against the sculptural weight of French Rococo. They also retain the simple corners with foliate C-scrolls and rosettes which were elements of British Louis XIV-style frames, as here. In both Lot 103 and the frame of Hogarth’s portrait, the Rococo elements lie in the long borders of rocailles below the S-scrolls of the top edge, which encroach onto the frieze like small waves ebbing and flowing across the sand – the real sand, applied beneath the gilding – and the rocaille centres. The frame of the Hogarth has asymmetric centres, but Lot 103 is regular on both its axes.
Lot 104: A fine mid-18th century British Rococo carved giltwood frame; concave profile; with S-scrolling rails; pierced foliate corners with sunflowers; pierced C-scroll and rocaille centres; with delicate openwork rocaille hollow; cavetto; centred gadrooning at the sight edge; original gilding under bronze paint; 124.6 x 98.8 cm.
This frame is still completely symmetrical, but it is pierced to an astonishing degree of lacey fragility and delicacy. In spite of its regularity on both axes, it shows the influence of Thomas Johnson’s imaginative Rococo designs.
Rococo carved giltwood looking-glass after a design by Thomas Johnson, c.1760, 212 x 140 cm., Sotheby’s, 14 January 2021, Lot 164
Picture frame and looking-glass are linked not only by their extreme attenuation, but by elements such as the small cascades of water which fall from every contour of Johnson’s design, and from many of the same areas on the carved looking-glass (where they become confused with the wind-torn leaves which also edge the upper contours).
Lot 104: British Rococo frame montaged with Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), Sarah, Lady Innes, c.1757, o/c, 101.6 x 72.7 cm., now Frick Collection, New York
In the picture frame, Lot 104, these water and leaf motifs have been arranged side by side into a valance, like cut-out lambrequins, which fills the scotia between the scrolled top rail and the inner cavetto. They are still rocailles, however, as the central oval boss and water-like ripples on each one show. They contribute to the airiness and insubstantiality of this very beautiful frame – something designed to show off the transient gauziness of a Gainsborough portrait, perhaps.
Lot 81: A mid-18th century Venetian Rococo carved giltwood frame; ogee profile; with scrolling foliate lambrequin corners and undulating strapwork and bud decoration on a cross-hatched ground, in the French style; cavetto; gadrooned sight edge with hazzling; 53.5 x 43 cm.
Lot 81: Venetian Rococo frame montaged with Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757), Gustavus Hamilton, 2nd Viscount Boyne, 1730-31, pastel/paper, 56.5 x 42.9 cm., now Metropolitan Museum, New York
Lot 81: Venetian Rococo frame montaged with Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964), Fiori, 1951, o/c, 22.7 x 19 cm., Sotheby’s, 26 November 2013, Lot 13
There are two 18th century and one 19th century revival Venetian Rococo frames in the sale, which are completely different from French and British Rococo frames in their use of related ornament, texture and effect. Lot 81 has the scrolling foliate lambrequin corners, the strapwork, florets and textured finish of Louis XIV frames, but it has miniaturized, updated and lightened them, instilling them with a rippling, dancing frivolity which is entirely Rococo in spirit. This frame could easily be imagined on an 18th century pastel by the Venetian artist, Rosalba Carriera, but it might equally well contain a flowerpiece by the 20th century Bolognese artist, Morandi.
Lot 19: A late 17th-early 18th century British (or Netherlandish?) carved and silvered frame; cushion profile; with inset carved scrolling foliate and acanthus leaf corners; scrolling foliate and bellflower centres; foliate paterae demi-centres; between fluted columnar reposes; silvered and probably finished with a gold-coloured lacquer; 127.4 x 94.7 cm.
There are other single frames in this collection which stand out for their interest, condition and desirability. Lot 19, for example, which is a silvered British Baroque panel frame: an elaborated and enriched version of the Louis XIII style as seen through the eyes of London craftsmen; designed to display portraits of the Stuart Restoration, from the 1670s-1720s. The unusual fluted reposes have lambrequin-shaped ends, in a nod to French fashion; these can also be found in contemporary silverware – for example around the base of a Charles II silver-gilt ewer.
Lot 25: A late 17th-century Baroque Roman (‘Salvator Rosa’) carved giltwood frame; concave profile; with bird’s beak moulding at the top edge; plain scotia; surrounded by stepped astragals and fillets at the back edge, beneath the top edge and at the sight; 54.3 x 43.3 cm.
Lot 25 is a handsome example of the Roman gallery frame, the ‘Salvator Rosa’, shown above with a view of the Palazzo Doria Pamphilji, where it has been used for a mass framing of the collection. This way of displaying paintings (whatever their nationality and period) in more or less ornamented versions of the same frame meant that they were harmonized both with their architectural surroundings and with each other. The ‘Salvator Rosa’ is the epitome of a Baroque frame, manipulating strong contrasts of light and shade through its deeply-carved convexes and concavities. These emphasize the parallel lines of the mouldings and the way that they join at the mitres to produce the effect of a short perspectival tunnel, running into and focusing on the painting; this, in its turn, reinforces the compositional perspective and spatial recession of the image.
This versatile Baroque frame became popular with British collectors and connoisseurs who had taken the Grand Tour to Italy, or (in the case of artists) had accompanied Grand Tourists. They saw or brought home paintings of fantastic galleries by Giovanni Panini (full of works in ‘Salvator Rosa’ frames), and portraits of themselves by Pompeo Batoni, which would have been given these frames in their own country, but – for the convenience of the travellers – were more often framed at home: frequently in ‘Carlo Maratta’ frames, the British version of the style.
Lot 102: A fine 18th century British ‘Carlo Maratta’ carved giltwood frame; ‘full Carlo’ with five orders of ornament; complex moulding profile; with enriched leaf on the ogee at the back edge; gadrooning with stopped channel flute at the top edge; ribbon-&-stave; applied acanthus-&-shield in the scotia; centred chain of husks at the sight edge; 100.9 x 75 cm.
Giovanni Remigio (1607-75), Pietà, after Van Dyck, o/copper, 45 x 37 cm., detail of frame, Burghley House
Lot 102 may have been used for a particularly important portrait, or perhaps – like Giovanni Remigio’s Pietà in Burghley House – for a precious sacred painting. It is what is known as a ‘full Carlo’, with every moulding enriched with ornament; a testimony to the regard in which its original painting was held.
Lot 16: A 17th century British Auricular carved giltwood frame; shallow profile; with scrolling cartilage-like and marine decoration; segmental forms; spiral shells at the base; grotesque mascaron bottom centre; 25.5 x 20.8 cm.
This small frame – designed for a painting only 10 inches tall – is a miniature version of the organic Auricular style, which began in the early 17th century in the Netherlands with printed cartouches and silverwork, and spread to Britain in the 1620s via the same prints, and collections in books of ornament. From the 1630s full-size frames in the style of Lot 16 were made for court portraits, and can be seen, for example, at Ham House, Claydon House, and in the Ashmolean Museum. They share a use of animal motifs (eagles’ wings and heads, lionskins, dolphins), shells, waves and other marine elements, with the ear-like, cartilaginous shapes which give their name to the style. Perhaps this tiny frame was intended to hold the picture of a shell in a collector’s cabinet of curiosities?
Lot 117: A late 18th-early 19th century Italian Empire carved giltwood frame; concave profile; with ovolo chain at back edge; Roman acanthus leaves on the convex top edge; ribbon-&-stave; fluted scotia with palmette corners; 169.5 x 132 cm.; Lot 118: An early 19th century French Empire gilded plaster frame; concave profile with stepped hollows; with alternating tied palmettes and acanthus leaf buds linked with C-scrolls; cavetto; baluster bead-&-double reel; frieze; acanthus and bud sight edge; 95.6 x 82.5 cm.
From around 170 years later come two frames, from Italy and France; both products of the remaking of the NeoClassical style of Louis XVI in the wake of the French Revolution. The Italian frame, Lot 117, has a profile close to that of the ‘Salvator Rosa’, with a bird’s beak top edge and fluted scotia. The tall acanthus leaves on the top edge are related to the elongated palmettes used for Napoleonic brocades, and diverge from the French Empire model, which spread through much of Europe in the wake of Napoleon’s conquests. Lot 118, the French Empire frame, is a wider model of frames used by David, and an enriched version of that on Ingres’s Portrait of Madame de Senonnes (1814) in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes. The upper hollow has a continuous moulded plaster decoration of palmettes and acanthus leaf buds, characteristic of furniture and architectural features by the imperial designers, Percier and Fontaine.
Lot 121: A late 19th century ‘Degas’-style reeded frame; segmental cushion profile; with multiple fine reeds; stained finish with parcel-gilding at the sight edge; very close to designs in Degas’s sketchbooks, carnet 23, Bibliothèque nationale, Paris; 116 x 85 cm.
Finally, a quick look at the most modern, non-revival style of frame in the sale – a ‘Degas’ pattern, very like the artist’s drawings of frame profiles in one of his sketchbooks, and like the original frame on his Portrait d’amis sur scène, 1879, in the Musée d’Orsay. A white-painted example can also be seen on a Degas pastel hanging behind his friend, Dr Georges Viau, in a photo of Viau taken in his house in Charenton-le-Pont. This is a large, rare example of such a design appearing at auction; it would suit pictures not only by Degas himself, but by Caillebotte, or even Gauguin.
Montage of Lot 121 with Degas, Le défilé, 1866-68, 46 x 61 cm., Musée d’Orsay
This is, altogether, a very interesting and rewarding collection. The sale will be held online from 30th March to 5th April 2023.
Contact Georgina Hardy, Deputy Director, Specialist, Head of Evening Sale: Old Master Paintings
Tel.: 020 7293 5894 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Spectacular pieces beautifully highlighted by your precise, informative, educational and playful text, always to the point, helping us dive deeply into a breath of pertinent and related directions. Brava Lynn!
Gosh, Marc – how sweet of you; thank you so much!