Frame and picture: reframing Expressionist works on paper in the Selinka Collection

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Marianne Saal describes the reframing in antique 19th and 20th century frames – from the collection of Werner Murrer Rahmen – of a large group of works on paper in the Selinka Collection, which were exhibited at the Kunstmuseum Ravensburg early in 2021. This article began life as a piece on the Murrer Rahmen blog in February 2021, together with a video interview with Gudrun Selinka and Werner Murrer, discussing the genesis of the project and the process of reframing so much of the collection in appropriate styles. The text has been greatly expanded and kindly translated for The Frame Blog, and the video has been given English subtitles. Both pieces highlight the enthusiasm of a collector and the dedication of a frame expert, working together to achieve an authentic context for the display of works on paper – works which are more frequently confined in blandly modern and anachronistic museum mouldings, which tend to anonymize them and render them invisible.

Frame and picture: a video on the reframing project by the Kunstmuseum Ravensburg

Frame and picture by Marianne Saal

In an exhibition that ran until March 2021, the Kunstmuseum Ravensburg presented Expressionist works from the Selinka Collection. It was a show which focused not just upon the artworks, but on their settings as well.

The exhibited pieces – primarily works on paper – were all reframed for the occasion. During the course of this reframing, overlapping mounts were removed and the prints, drawings and watercolours remounted on acid-free, ageing-resistant museum board, allowing them to ‘float’ freely. Visitors could thus enjoy an unrestricted view of pieces by Expressionist artists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Otto Mueller, Max Pechstein, Edvard Munch, Otto Dix and Max Kaus. What is particularly striking about this new presentation is the use of original historical frames from the collection of Werner Murrer Rahmen, with each frame chosen to suit the specific picture – the key aim being to ensure that artwork and frame formed an harmonious whole. In some cases, painstakingly-crafted replicas were made to match the original frames. Of particular interest here are the works by the group known as Die Brücke, which make up a large part of the Selinka Collection. For the artists of Die Brücke, picture and frame formed a single entity. Although it is less usual for graphic works to be given a frame specially chosen or even designed by the artists themselves, they benefit as much as paintings from having the right setting.

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Werner Murrer and Ute Stuffer with a selection of the reframed pictures from the Selinka collection

It is thus a credit to Gudrun Selinka, the owner of the collection, and Ute Stuffer, the director of the museum, for recognizing and realizing the potential offered by such appropriate framing. Newly-framed prints and paintings had already been shown in two previous shows featuring works from the collection [1], and, to highlight the reframing, some of these works were displayed again at the latest exhibition (Fokus: Expressionismus. Sammlung Selinka [In Focus: Expressionism. The Selinka Collection]), but with additional descriptions of each frame, providing details on material, profile, finish and period.

Each of the works on paper in the Selinka Collection is unique, and thus each needs its own equally unique frame. The reframing, therefore, had not only to ensure that picture and frame would form an aesthetically harmonious entity, but also to consider specifics such as the species of wood, the profile and the finish. The choice of frame was informed by what is known about the settings which the artists of Die Brücke themselves chose, designed and created for their paintings. The members of the group generally opted for softwood frames. Compared with hardwood, which features only rarely in Brücke frames, softwood has a coarser structure and grain, thanks to its prominent growth rings. In most cases, paint or metal leaf was deliberately applied to the untreated wood without using a gesso ground. The rough surface and texture of the wood, which remained apparent even in the finished frames, corresponded to the expressive idiom of the painters, and to the matte, unvarnished surfaces of their paintings [2]. The desire of the artists for immediacy and authenticity [3] manifested itself not only in the way in which they applied their paint and in the motifs of the paintings, but in the framing too. Picture and frame were seen as interconnected.
[Unless otherwise stated, the works illustrated below are from the Selinka collection]

1A Kirchner Mondaufgang 1905 corner

1B Kirchner Mondaufgang 1905 reverse

The original frame for Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), Mondaufgang, 1905, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; corner detail and view of the reverse, signed, titled and dated by the artist

One of the earliest known of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s own frames is a very plain mitred moulding with a rectangular profile, made of softwood and finished with nothing but a thin coat of varnish, through which the growth rings and knots of the wood remain visible. The frame is dated, titled and even signed by Kirchner on the reverse, and originally contained his 1905 painting Mondaufgang (now reframed) [4].

2A Kirchner Farbentanz 1933

2B Kirchner Farbentanz 1933 corner

Kirchner (1880-1938), Farbentanz, 1933, coloured woodcut with corner detail of frame, E. W. Kornfeld Collection, Bern/Davos. Kirchner painted the panels of the frame yellow, red and blue to match the colours of the woodcut

Otherwise, the only two original frames for his prints which we know of are also by Kirchner himself. These, too, are made of softwood and were painted and finished in metal leaf by the artist [5]; Kirchner’s colour woodcut Farbentanz is illustrated above in its painted frame.

Selinka Collection: examples of wood-tone softwood frames

3A Kirchner Zweifellos Schmidt-Rottluff mit einer Jungfrau spielend c1910

Kirchner (1880-1938), Zweifellos Schmidt-Rottluff mit einer Jungfrau spielend, c.1910, coloured pencil, in 20th century softwood frame, untreated, with natural abrasion; corner detail

3B Kirchner Abendszene 1919

Kirchner (1880-1938), Abendszene, 1919, coloured lithograph in 20th century softwood frame, left as bare wood with natural abrasion

In both the lithograph (Abendszene) and the pencil drawing (Zweifellos Schmidt-Rottluff…), the naturally aged wood tone complements the shades of brown in the work, creating a link between the frames and their contents.

3C Kirchner Nackter Bube Männlicher Akt Hans Gewecke Am Fehmarnstrand 1913

 Kirchner (1880-1938), Nackter Bube, Männlicher Akt – Hans Gewecke – Am Fehmarnstrand, 1913, chalk, in 20th century softwood frame, left as bare wood, naturally aged wood tone; corner detail

3D KirchnerLiegender Mädchenkopf 1917

Kirchner (1880-1938), Liegender Mädchenkopf, 1917, drypoint etching, in 20th century softwood frame, untreated, with natural abrasion; corner detail

Just how different the grain of various softwoods can be, and how their appearance affects the choice of frame for individual artworks, is evident from the next two examples. The softwood frame around Kirchner’s chalk drawing, Nackter Bube, Männlicher Akt – Hans Gewecke – Am Fehmarnstrand, features predominantly wide, irregularly-spaced growth rings which do not always run straight. The moulding on the last example, Kirchner’s Liegender Mädechenkopf, has, on the other hand, narrow, linear and mostly parallel growth rings. Whereas the narrow rings of the softwood frame echo the fine lines of the drypoint etching, the more figured grain of the frame on the chalk drawing matches the rounded, dynamic forms of the work itself.

Further examples of wood-tone softwood frames

4A Erich Heckel Vorm Spiegel 1920

Erich Heckel (1883-1970), Vorm Spiegel, 1920, lithograph in 20th century softwood Expressionist frame, stained pale brown, the back and sight mouldings painted a matt black which links to the monochrome lithograph; corner detail

4B Otto Mueller Adam und Eva 1920to23

Otto Mueller (1874-1930), Adam und Eva, 1920-23, lithograph in 19th/20th century softwood Expressionist frame, finished in light brown shellac, natural abrasion

4C Karl Schmidt-Rottluff Liebespaar 1918

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976), Liebespaar, 1918, woodcut in early 20th century softwood Expressionist frame, finished probably with diluted shellac, natural abrasion, veneer on side; corner detail

Examples of polychrome softwood frames

The following works also have softwood frames, but with painted mouldings. The paint was applied without a gesso ground so that the grain and character of the wood remain clearly visible. The various finishes were chosen to match the artworks, with black-painted frames often used for prints and drawings. One reason for this is the particular technique used by the artists. For black-&-white prints, frames also finished in black provide a necessary counterweight, setting off the work to good effect. Another is that, in terms of both finish and profile, the simple black frame established itself as the archetypal Expressionist frame in the early 20th century, a development in which the artists of Die Brücke played a key rôle. Between 1910 and 1913, black ‘plank frames’ [6] were used by Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Emil Nolde and Max Pechstein.

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Heckel (1883-1970), Gläserner Tag, 1913, o/c, 117 x 92 cm., Bavarian State Painting Collections, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich. Photo: Nikolaus Steglich. The painting is set in a black ‘plank frame’

Notable for their simple appearance, such frames were not only a distinguishing feature in the eyes of the artists; they also marked a significant development in the history of picture framing itself, one that was characteristic of the heyday of Expressionism.[7] This historical significance was, alongside aesthetic considerations, a key factor in deciding to use the black frames which the Expressionists had chosen for their paintings when reframing their prints and drawings.

Selinka Collection

6A Kirchner Werbendes Mädchen 1911

Kirchner (1880-1938), Werbendes Mädchen, 1911, lithograph in 19th-20th century softwood frame, finished with a water-based black paint, semi-gloss varnish, natural abrasion; corner detail

6B Max Pechstein Bildnis mit Kopftuch 1920

Max Pechstein (1881-1955), Bildnis mit Kopftuch, 1920, drypoint etching in an early 20th century softwood scotia frame, finished in satin black, natural abrasion

7A Karl SchmidtRottluff Bei Nidden 1913

Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976), Bei Nidden, 1913, watercolour and coloured chalk in 19th-20th century softwood frame with ogee profile, finished in black satin gloss; pronounced abrasion, presumably deliberately created

7B Erich Heckel Männerbildnis 1919

Heckel (1883-1970), Männerbildnis, 1919, woodcut in 19th-20th century reverse oak frame finished in black with a clear satin varnish, natural abrasion

7C SchmidtRottluff Köpfe II 1911

Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976), Köpfe II, 1911, woodcut in late 19th-early 20th century softwood
frame with canted moulding, finished in light black stain, natural abrasion; corner detail

The two woodcuts immediately above, Köpfe II by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Männerbildnis by Erich Heckel, illustrate how the particular profile of a frame can create an harmonious balance between picture and setting. In terms of the species of wood, the Heckel frame represents an exception to the rule – it is oak rather than a softwood – but the profile of the black-painted frame nonetheless perfectly echoes the formal language of the woodcut. The woodcut Männerbildnis features both rounded and angular forms, and thus works particularly well with a frame profile also comprising convex, concave and flat mouldings. For Schmidt-Rottluff’s Köpfe II, on the other hand, a simple, black-painted canted frame was chosen, as this offers a pleasing parallel to the angular lines of the print, which are emphasized by the black shading in the background.

Examples of coloured and metal leaf finishes

8A Kirchner Badende Frauen und Kinder 1925-32

Kirchner (1880-1938), Badende Frauen und Kinder, 1925/32, o/c, courtesy of Galerie Henze & Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern: the gold-bronze finish on the frieze features a greenish stain

8B Kirchner Mann mit Katze 1930

 Kirchner (1880-1938), Mann mit Katze, 1930, o/c, Kunstmuseum Bern: the gold-bronze finish on the small frieze at the sight edge has a reddish tint harmonizing with the painting; corner detail

In addition to frames painted completely black, finishes in black and metal leaf or in an overall bronze leaf are also appropriate for works by Die Brücke artists. They eschewed the gilded and lavishly ornamented frames which were then the norm, opting instead for metal leaf finishes, created by mixing different shades of bronze and then patinating or toning them in varying ways. With regard to metal leaf, Kirchner in particular had very definite ideas; in his correspondence, for example, he often talks about a ‘greenish gold’:

‘I am of the opinion that green-gold always looks best on the pictures […]’ [8], he writes in October 1916 to the collector Carl Hagemann.

By this he means either a green-tinted golden bronze, created by mixing various tones of metal leaf, or a gold-bronze to which a green stain is applied – as in Badende Frauen und Kinder, above.[9]  Kirchner also frequently added colour to these gold-bronze finishes, matching them to the hues of his paintings (Mann mit Katze).

9A Kirchner Erich Heckel und Fränzi spielend c1910

9B Kirchner Erich Heckel und Fränzi spielend c1910 detail

Kirchner (1880-1938), Erich Heckel und Fränzi spielend, c.1910, coloured pencil in
20th century hardwood Expressionist frame, underpainted in green oil paint (save sight edge, probably finished in imitation silver leaf) and finished with bronze metal leaf on the face; the back edge left unfinished, showing green underpainting; natural abrasion; with corner detail of frame. Photo: Wynrich Zlomke

The front of the frame above has a gold-bronze metal leaf finish, applied – as revealed by the back edge and reverse – over a ground of green oil paint, thus creating Kirchner’s desired ‘greenish gold’ effect.

10A Kirchner Nachzeichnung des Palaubalkens c1910

10B Kirchner Nachzeichnung des Palaubalkens c1910 detail

Kirchner (1880-1938), Nachzeichnung des Palaubalkens, c.1910, coloured pencil in 20th century walnut Expressionist frame, underpainted in red (save the sight and back edge), finished in gold-bronze metal leaf (save the bevel beneath the top edge, exposing the red paint); natural abrasion; corner detail

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Kirchner (1880-1938), Mädchen mit Kind, 1919, coloured woodcut in 20th century softwood Expressionist frame, finished in bronze metal leaf with red sight edge; corner detail

With the framing of Kirchner’s drawing, Nachzeichnung des Palaubalkens, and the woodcut, Mädchen mit Kind, the combination of gold-bronze metal leaf and red paint gives picture and frame an extremely harmonious feeling. The colours of the frame echo and converse with those of the work, making for a coherent whole.

Further examples of coloured/bronzed finishes:

12A Max Pechstein Nach dem Bad 1920 detail

Pechstein (1881-1955), Nach dem Bad, 1920, drypoint etching in 20th century softwood frame, finished in bronze metal leaf and black shellac; corner detail

12B Otto Mueller Paar am Tisch 1922to25

Mueller (1874-1930), Paar am Tisch, 1922-25, coloured lithograph in early 20th century oak print frame, finished in a Van Dyke Brown-coloured stain, probably bound with a thin alcohol-soluble resin, bronze metal leaf on the sight edge, natural abrasion; corner detail

12C Kirchner Sitzende Fränzi c1910

Kirchner (1880-1938), Sitzende Fränzi, c.1910, charcoal drawing in 19th-20th century softwood historicist bolection frame, finished in bronze metal leaf on the sight edge and elsewhere in matte black paint, probably with shellac; natural abrasion

12D Kirchner Halbakt 1912 detail

Kirchner (1880-1938), Halbakt, 1912, lithograph in 20th century softwood Expressionist frame, finished in bronze metal leaf, bound with shellac; natural abrasion; corner detail

12E Kirchner Nackte Frau 1927

Kirchner (1880-1938), Nackte Frau, 1927, coloured lithograph in 19th-20th century softwood frame, finished in silver-bronze metal leaf, with natural abrasion revealing the wood beneath; corner detail


13A Otto Mueller Zigeunerpaar or Zigeunerliebespaar 1921to22

Mueller (1874-1930), Zigeunerpaar (Zigeunerliebespaar), 1921-1922, lithograph in early 20th century beechwood frame with pyramidal profile, finished with black sight edge and elsewhere stained a mid-brown with satin effect, natural abrasion; corner detail

13B Max Pechstein Badende IX 1911to12

Pechstein (1881-1955), Badende IX, 1911/12, woodcut and watercolour in early 20th century softwood frame with pyramidal profile, natural ageing and abrasion; corner detail

These frames have every type of profile, from simple rectangular sections through variations with stepped mouldings and narrow fillets to ogee, scotia or pyramidal mouldings. The latter profile is particularly characteristic of Otto Mueller; he often used pyramidal mouldings to frame his paintings and this became the signature style for his framing. An example is the frame (above) on his lithograph, Zigeunerpaar (Zigeunerliebespaar).

Almost a hundred works from the Selinka Collection were reframed, those above being just a selection. The accompanying video, Frame and Picture, commissioned by Kunstmuseum Ravensburg, features Gudrun Selinka and Werner Murrer talking about the reframing project, and is shown at the beginning of this article.

Marianne Saal, art historian at WERNER MURRER RAHMEN

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Kunstmuseum Ravensburg – Past exhibitions:
Fokus: Expressionismus. Sammlung Selinka [Fokus: Expressionismus. Selinka Collection], Sammlung Selinka. Lebensgefühl Landschaft [Selinka Collection. Landscape as an Attitude] and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Fantastische Figuren [Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Fantastical Figures]

You can read more about Die Brücke artists’ frames in the book UNZERTRENNLICH. Rahmen und Bilder der Brücke-Künstler and in the online version of the corresponding exhibition catalogue (both in German).

See, too, Katrina Schulz’s article, ‘Never apart: Frames and paintings by the artists of Die Brücke’ on the exhibition held at the Brücke-Museum, Berlin, in 2019-20
for another original Kirchner frame, see ‘Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Badenden im Raum; Saarlandmuseum Moderne Galerie

Photos: Werner Murrer (unless stated otherwise)

Translation: Iain Reynolds

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[1] Sammlung Selinka: Lebensgefühl Landschaft (Selinka Collection: Landscape as an Attitude) and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Fantastische Figuren (Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Fantastical Figures)

[2] See Christine Traber, ‘In Perfect Harmony? escaping the frame in the early 20th century’, in Eva Mendgen (ed.), In Perfect Harmony: Picture +frame 1850-1920, exh. cat., Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 1995, p. 234

[3] ‘…Whoever renders directly and authentically that which impels him to create is one of us’. From the 1906 manifesto of Die Brücke group of artists (which Kirchner also produced as a woodcut), in Zdenek Felix (ed.), Erich Heckel 1883-1970: Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen und Graphik, exh. cat., Museum Folkwang Essen, 1983, p. 208

[4] Donald E. Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Mit einem kritischen Katalog sämtlicher Werke, Munich, 1968, no 7

[5] The two known artist frames for Kirchner prints are the pyramidal-moulding on the coloured woodcut Farbentanz, and the metal-leaf finished frame for the pastel drawing Zwei Kokotten (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond/USA, The Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection); see Werner Murrer, Lisa Marei Schmidt and D (eds.): UNZERTRENNLICH. Rahmen und Bilder der Brücke-Künstler, exhibition catalogue, Brücke Museum, Berlin, 16 Nov. 2019 to 15 Mar. 2020, Buchheim Museum der Phantasie, Bernried, 28 Mar. to 5 Jul. 2020, London, 2020, pp. 335-343.

[6] The term ‘Bretterrahmen’ or ‘plank frame’ was coined by Kirchner. In a letter to Henry van de Velde of 16 January 1918, he writes of an upcoming exhibition at Kunsthaus Zürich: ‘I want the pictures to be just in simple plank frames’; as quoted in Nele van de Velde (ed.), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Briefe an Nele und Henry van de Velde, Munich, 1961, p. 78

[7] Cf. exh. cat., Berlin/Bernried, 2019/20, pp. 64-111, and Marianne Saal, Brücke zum Bild. Die Brücke-Künstler und ihre Rahmen, ibid., p. 358

[8] Kirchner to Carl Hagemann, 25 Oct. 1916, as quoted in Hans Delfs, Mario-Andreas von Lüttichau and Roland Scotti (eds.), Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluff, Nolde, Nay … Briefe an den Sammler und Mäzen Carl Hagemann 1906-1940, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, no 84

[9] Cf. Wolfgang Henze, ‘Un-Zärt-Rennlich: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner und seine Gemälderahmen’, in Werner Murrer et al, Unzertrennlich : Rahmen und Bilder der Brücke-Künstler, exh. cat., Berlin/Bernried, 2019/20, p. 376