Artists’ frames in 19th century Denmark

by Jacob Thage, with additions by The Frame Blog

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The fifth essay on Danish frames from the book, Frames: state of the art, published in 2008 to accompany the exhibition of the same name at the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen. It introduces the major movements and single artists responsible, throughout the 19th century, for some singular and outstanding frame designs.


If all the so-called artists’ frames of the 19th century could be arranged side by side, it would be a motley collection: gilded frames, black and white mouldings, varnished and bare wood, burnished, matte and carved frames – the possibilities were infinite. European artists had begun to have a renewed interest in the context of their paintings, and appreciated that the world of the pictorial surface should be integrated with its surroundings – with the contemporary architectural interior. Once again, the picture frame became of increasing importance to these artists, who comprehended that, as well as both demarcating the picture surface and highlighting it, the frame mediated between and harmonized the painting and the room where it hung. They also saw it as a way of expanding the work of art beyond the canvas.

1 Johan Rohde Late Evening at the Quay in Hoorn 1893 Den Hirschsprungske Samling Kbh

Johan Rohde (1856-1935), Late evening at the quay in Hoorn, 1893, Den Hirschsprungske Samling, Kbh

Such views gave rise to a debate through the later 19th and the 20th centuries as to the function of the frame. Johan Rohde, the painter and designer, contributed to the debate with his own frame designs [1], and also by his articles for Danish newspapers on, for example, the pointillism of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. In July 1892 he visited the exhibition Paintings & drawings by artists of the ‘XX’ and the ‘Association pour l’Art’ in The Hague, which included pointilliste works, writing,

‘…there is something incredibly dilettante and ugly, even peasant-like, about them; an ugliness and tastelessness which extends even to the frame – generally a flat wooden frame, over which the hideous dots of colour continue so that there is no proper boundary of the painting, although the artists try to choose colours for the frame which contrast with those in the painting. And, after having sacrificed so much, I cannot see that they have gained anything possible in return, in the way of light or the power of colour.’ [2]

2 Georges Seurat View of Le Crotoy 1889 Detroit IA

Georges Seurat, View of Le Crotoy, upstream, 1889, o/c, 27 ¾ x 34 1/8 ins (70.5 x 86.7 cm.), Detroit Institute of Arts

Rohde was not encouraged to ‘dwell more closely’ on Seurat’s painting and pointilliste frame in the exhibition [3]. From around 1890 Seurat was reportedly inspired by Wagner’s use of a dark auditorium as a foil to the lighted stage at Bayreuth [4], and used a frame much darker than the painting, but where the light values of each area corresponded with those of the neighbouring canvas. This was designed to focus the spectator’s attention on the picture, whilst simultaneously uniting it and the frame as a single integrated work of art.

The 19th century: mechanization versus the artist’s frame

[The changes in technological innovation at the end of the 18th and first decades of the 19th centuries – the replacement to a large extent of hand-carved by moulded composition or plaster ornament, the arrival of mechanical saws, and the use of base metal leaf instead of gold or silver leaf – together with the Napoleonic wars, which reduced demand for expensive luxuries and greatly diminished the number of skilled carvers, radically changed the art of framemaking from custom-made to mass-produced. ‘Artist’ frames reappeared linked to movements – the Nazarenes, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Olympians (Alma-Tadema and Leighton), the Aesthetes (Albert Moore and Whistler, the Impressionists [5].]

3 Caspar David Friedrich The Cross in the mountains 2

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), The Cross in the mountains (The Tetschen Altar), 1807-08, o/c, 115 x 110 cm., frame carved by Christian Gottlieb Kühn to Friedrich’s design, Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden

Renewed interest in the design and function of the frame in the 19th century – especially in northern Europe – was stimulated by Caspar David Friedrich’s painting, The Cross in the mountains or the Tetschen Altar of 1807-08. This radical painting, which those who were interested could go to see displayed in Friedrich’s studio, is an example of an artist’s frame; i.e. one designed by the artist himself for a particular painting. It is a carved giltwood frame, decorated with Christian symbols and having an architectural structure intended to stand on the altarpiece of a chapel [6], and it eschews running mouldings for a significant form which is also an integral part of the whole work of art, underlining and completing the meaning of the painting itself. In this, Friedrich followed a tradition which had become less common throughout the 18th century.

In Denmark, Nicolai Abraham Abildgard designed some ground-breaking NeoClassical interiors at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. He united an interest in craftsmanship with an enthusiasm for antiquity [7], producing  designs for the interiors of royal residences (Christian VIII’s palace of Amalienborg) and for private homes (the Frisch House, 5 Nytorv, Copenhagen), all of which had furniture based on classical models. Some designs include the paintings in the wall elevations; for example, for the Blue Chamber at Amalienborg a black parcel-gilt frame in the centre of a wall is echoed in Abildgard’s drawing by the borders enclosing the wall panels [8].


Nicolai Abraham Abildgard (1743-1809), The revival of learning, invention of printing & gunpowder, & discovery of America, 1774, o/c, 29.5 x 29.5 cm.,Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Although Abildgard’s furniture was only popular in a small circle, his aesthetic left its mark on Danish design even till today, and possibly diffused beyond the country itself [9]. He is also the first Danish artist whose name has been lent to a frame of his own design: it can be seen on a great number of his paintings, whatever their provenance, in variations on an architrave profile with a top edge of oak or bay leaves, plain frieze and beaded sight edge [10].

The next generation of designs was produced by the sculptor, Hermann Ernst Freund (1786-1840), who was responsible for popularizing a Pompeiian style of interior decoration. Returning home in 1828 after ten years in Rome, he designed ‘a little Herculaneum here in Zeeland’, as the painter Constantine Hansen put it [11], in Materialgaard, his official house as professor at the Danish Academy of Art.

Christen Købke (1810-48), Georg Hilker, c.1837, o/c, 65 x 54.5 cm., and detail, frame painted by Georg Hilker, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

The work was carried out to Freund’s designs by artists such as Georg Hilker, who also referred to a contemporary book of classical ornament by Wilhelm Zahn [12]. However, Freund wanted not just painted walls but a whole interior with integrated furnishings; so he designed everything in antique style – chairs, tables, even a cart for his children.

5C Christen Købke Painted cupboard with trompe l oeil shelf of stones 1840

Christen Købke (1810-48), painted cupboard with trompe l’oeil shelf of stones, 1840, 92 x 85 x 48.5 cm.,  Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

This form of interior decoration, closely modelled on classical examples, became fashionable, and Hilker and his peers – Christen Købke, Jørgen Sonne, Jørgen Roed, H. W. Bissen, J. Th. Lundbye and Constantin Hansen – began to take an interest in interior design and furnishings, several of them experimenting in both for their own homes and those of others. In some of the extant studies for Pompeiian interiors, the pictures are indicated [13], as they are also in later interiors, where the ornament moved gradually from the antique to a more contemporary Danish style.

6A Christen Købke View of Østerbro in morning light, 1836

6B Christen Købke View of Østerbro in morning light, 1836 detail

Christen Købke (1810-48), View of Østerbro in morning light, 1836, 106.5 x 161.5 cm., frame painted by Georg Hilker, and detail, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Statens Museum for Kunst

Statens Museum for Kunst

Christen Købke (1810-48), Frederiksburg Castle seen from the northwest, 1836, o/c, 58 x 64 cm., frame painted by Georg Hilker, and detail, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Hilker’s painted frame for his own portrait by Købke is probably the best known frame from this period; created at the same time as the portrait, it has an ornamental border in a style taken from Zahn’s book [14]. There is a related frame with a different design on Kobke’s View of Østerbro in morning light, of 1836, and another one on his view of Frederiksburg Castle seen from the northwest, whilst similar borders appear in Hilker’s drawings for interiors in Købke’s home in Blegdammen.

7A Peter Skovgaard Beech wood in May view from Iselingen 1856-57

Peter Skovgaard (1817-75), A beech wood in May near Iselingen, 1856-57, o/c, 189.5 x 158.5 cm., Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Peter Skovgaard’s painting, Beech wood in May, hung in the country house of Iselingen, near Vordingborg. In a drawing (presumably by Skovgaard himself) the picture is shown hung in a niche, framed by a painted window frame, with a ceiling ornamented with cassettes – the pictured world of the painting reflecting the real world outside it [15].

7B Martin Hammerich at Iselingen with P. C. Skovgaard's painting A Beech Wood in May Near Iselingen Manor seen on the wall

Martin Hammerich at Iselingen with P. C. Skovgaard’s painting A beech wood in May near Iselingen seen on the wall

A later interior photograph of Iselingen shows the painting in the rather more conventional frame which still contains it.

Despite the interest of many Danish artists in Pompeiian-style interiors and colour schemes, the furnishing of rooms and hanging of their paintings, Hilker’s painted frame decoration does not seem to have become popular. In contemporary paintings of interiors, what we mostly see are variations on NeoClassical gilded moulding frames, with or without corner decoration, beading, or running ornaments such as those from the workshop of, for example, Peder Christian Damborg; these dominate all other styles, and must presumably have been preferred by the owners. If painted frames were more widespread in the mid-19th century, then very few of them have survived. This might be because of the renewed enthusiasm for Damborg’s  ‘Empire’ frames; these became popular again around the turn of the 20th century, after the publication in 1893 of an article on the Danish framemaker’s workshop and his NeoClassical patterns [16]. It might also be that, in contrast with contemporary frame styles in Britain and France, Danish frames were simpler, continuing to harmonize with the interiors where they hung for much longer.


8B Wilhelm Marstrand Professor N L Høyen 1868 details

Wilhelm Marstrand (1810-73), Professor Niels Laurits Høyen, 1868, o/c, 129 x 98 cm., and details of portrait medallions, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Amongst the exceptions to such relatively plain designs is the frame of Wilhelm Marstrand’s 1868 portrait of the art historian Professor N. L. Høyen. It was designed by the architect Christian Hetsch in revival Renaissance-style, and has small portrait medallions of the artist Johan Lundbye, the architect Michael Bindesbøll, and the sculptors Georg Freund and Vilhelm Bissen.

8C Wilhelm Marstrand Professor N L Høyen 1868 details

Wilhelm Marstrand, Professor Niels Laurits Høyen, details of trophies

[Slung on the ribbons to which the portrait medallions are attached in their miniature scrolling ‘leatherwork’ frames, are small trophies of the tools which characterize each man’s metier: hammer and chisel for Bissen, clay sculpting tools for Freund; a palette and brushes for Lundbye, set squares and plumblines for Bindesbøll.] A frame in a similar Renaissance style had previously been made in Florence, in 1862, for Jørgen Roed’s copy of Raphael’s self-portrait, carved with arabesques and the likenesses of Italian Renaissance artists [17]; and a further frame in the same genre was made for Julius Paulsen’s double portrait of Carl Jacobsen, the brewer, and his wife Ottilia in 1896 (Design Museum Danmark).

The unique design: the Slott-Møllers and J.F. Willumsen

9A Agnes SlottMøller Queen Margrete & Erik of Pomerania 1884to87 140x90cm

Agnes Slott-Møller (1862-1937), Queen Margrete & Erik of Pomerania, 1884-87, 140 x 90 cm., Brandts Museum for Kunst og Visuel Kultur

In the years around 1890 some Danish Symbolist painters began to take an interest in the possibilities revealed when the picture frame became integral to the work. Agnes Slott-Møller was an early exponent of the idea, having been inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites and the relationship of their paintings to books, plays and poems; she took her own subject matter from mediaeval Danish ballads, with their emotional and tragic content. [Her painting of Queen Margarethe I with her heir, Erik, above, has a flat plate frame decorated with fine reeding, cross-hatched at intervals in a style which seems to bridge Pre-Raphaelite and Art Deco styles.] Three years later, in 1890, she exhibited King Olaf, Margarethe’s son, the frame of which has four rosettes with coats of arms, and an inscription in Gothic lettering; and Queen Dagmar (also 1890), its frame having a Romanesque arch on two columns.

9B Agnes Slott-Møller There sat two ladies weaving in gold panel 1935 36x48cm priv coll

Agnes Slott-Møller (1862-1937), There sat two ladies weaving in gold, oil/panel, 1935, 36 x 48 cm., private collection

9B Fra Angelico Cortona Annunciation

Fra Angelico (c.1395-1455), The Cortona Altarpiece ( The Annunciation), 1432-34, tempera on panel, 175 x 180 cm., Museo Diocesano, Cortona

Variations on this latter, aedicular design recur; [an example is the frame of her last painting, Two ladies weaving in gold of 1935, where the structure not only indicates the castle loggia outside which the ladies sit, but the two columns allow the division of the same continuous landscape into spring, summer and autumn. Agnes Slott-Møller had visited Italy in 1888-89, when she was 26, and again several times during the early 20th century; it is possible that she might have visited Cortona on the way from Florence to Rome, and have seen Fra Angelico’s  Annunciation there, or perhaps its frescoed counterpart in San Marco, Florence. The arrangement of both, with their round-headed arches dividing the spaces occupied by the angel, the Virgin, and – at the left – the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden into a nocturnal landscape (Cortona), or a landscape contained by a fence (San Marco), seems particularly close in composition and architectural motif to the Two ladies…

9C Agnes Slott-Møller Niels Ebbesen

Agnes Slott-Møller (1862-1937), Niels Ebbesen, 1893-94, o/c, 311 x 375 cm., Kunstmuseum, Randers, Denmark

Practically all her frames are designed for the specific individual painting, whether they have an architectural structure intended to reflect the period of the subject, or have been decorated to create an harmonious whole, or have been given space for an inscription – an extract from the ballad informing them, for instance. [In the example above, the frame is inscribed along the bottom rail with a verse from a ballad which has apparently been carved from a wooden panel, pierced, and overlaid on a painted ground which matches the oak leaf spirals at the sides, and the foliate bosses on the top rail. The verse translates as:

‘All Danish souls praise the day in 1340 when the serpent blessed the lion’s blow, when Niels Ebbesen took Count Gerhards life.’

It is a celebration of a Danish hero who brought Germanic rule in Denmark to an end in 1340 by breaking into the house of the overlord, Count Gerhard III of Holstein, and beheading him. The oak leaves on the frame are presumably symbolic of national fortitude and resistance.

9D Agnes Slott-Møller Jomfru Blidelil

Agnes Slott-Møller (1862-1937), The ballad of Tidemand & Jomfru Blidelil, 1913, o/c, 148 x 280 cm., Hotel Dagmar, Ribe

The triptych Tidemand & Blidelil, based on another mediaeval Danish ballad, has an altarpiece structure, but replaces pilasters and decorative friezes with inscribed planes on all sides, punctuated with repetitions of the pair of enchanted roses with which Tidemand lured the maiden Blidelil to fly to him. It looks back to the frames designed by the Pre-Raphaelites – arched, inscribed with quotations and poems, and decorated with symbolic and attributive motifs.

9D Agnes Slott-Møller Jomfru Blidelil 1899 John Hunov Collection

Agnes Slott-Møller (1862-1937), Jomfru Blidelil, 1899, Birte Inge Christensen & John Hunov Collection

An earlier version of the central panel, Jomfru Blidelil, has a wide cushion frame carved overall with centred garlands of paired roses and rose leaves, and Marianne Koch suggests – in a note on the first exhibition of Agnes Slott-Møller’s work in 2009 – that she may have carved, as well as designed, it [18]. This seems to be a unique instance of an art historian wondering about the source of this artist’s frames, some of which are extremely large and solid – like that on Niels Ebbesen, which has a canvas too large, at more than twelve feet across, to be hung in the gallery in its vast beam-like frame. It does not seem likely that such a comparatively prolific artist could have produced quite so many very large and elaborate frames as well as designing, drawing and painting their contents, but perhaps she may have been responsible for the carved inscriptions or for some of the ornament…? The art school which she attended (Tegne- og Kunstindustriskolen for Kvinder) taught drawing and ‘handicrafts’, which may have included carving, and references to her and her husband, Harald Slott-Møller, indicate that they took a practical part in frame-making; however, there seems to be no documentary evidence for this.

10 Harald SlottMøller Birth of Venus detail after Botticelli 1898 pastel wcol & gold on paper 66x50cm Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers 31May2010 lot48 Copenhagen

Harald Slott-Møller (1864-1937), Birth of Venus, detail after Botticelli, 1898, pastel, watercolour & gold on paper, 66 x 50 cm., Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers, Copenhagen, 31 May 2010, Lot 48

The odd frame attributed to Harald Slott-Møller surfaces, but sometimes it is hard to see exactly how much is the artist’s work. For instance, the painting above is described as set in a ‘hand carved frame with shell decorations made by the painter’; although the shells look as though they have been made separately and applied to a pre-existing frame, whilst Agnes Slott-Møller’s frames look as though a professional framemaker played at least some part in her designs.

11 Agnes SlottMoller 1862to1937 The dying betrothed 1906 o c 83x136cm Sotheby s 18Oct2017 Lot93

Agnes Slott-Møller (1862-1937), The dying betrothed, 1906, o/c, 32 5/8 x 53 ½ ins (83 x 136 cm.), Christie’s, 18 October 2017, Lot 93

12 Agnes Slott-Møller Cum fratre sorerem. Prince Buris and Little Kirsten ARoS Aarhus Art Museum

Agnes Slott-Møller (1862-1937), Prins Buris and Liden Kirsten, 1908,  o/c, 202.7 x 220.5 cm., Brandts Museum for Kunst og Visuel Kultur

10B Harald SlottMøller Amalie & Erik Skram 1895 Bergen Public Library Norway

Harald Slott-Møller (1864-1937), Amalie & Erik Skram, 1895, Bergen Public Library, Norway. Photo: Wolfmann ]

Both Agnes Slott-Møller and her husband, Harald, had been particularly interested in the Arts and Crafts movement, and had engaged themselves in producing decorative art objects;  they had also been influenced by Ford Madox Brown’s, Rossetti’s and Holman Hunt’s frames, both in their ornamental and symbolic aspects – although Harald Slott-Møller’s frame designs seem to have been almost completely decorative: harmonizing with the painted image, as can be seen in photographs of their mutual exhibition in 1909 [19].

13 Harald SlottMøller Cradle c1894 Design Museum

[Harald Slott-Møller (1864-1937), inlaid, parcel-gilt and polychrome child’s cradle, c.1894, Design Museum Danmark

He did produce and/or design other various items: the carved and inlaid cradle, above, pottery in a Copenhagen faïence factory, and silverwork; so perhaps he was indeed the craftsman who carved the motifs, ornament and inscriptions on his wife’s frames.]


Harald Slott-Møller (1864-1937), Danish landscape, 1891, oil & gold on repoussé metal, 71 x 94.7 cm., Statens Museum for Kunst

In his 1893 painting, Three women: summer evening, the frame has applied rosettes echoing the flowers in the background, and butterflies in the corners for the summer setting. [However, the frame of Danish landscape is much less conventionally structured, with its stylized aedicular form and scalloped castellations like a toy castle, and its deep, curving sill.

14B Alfred Schmidt An Impressionistic audience at the Free Exhibition 1891

Axel Theiss (1860-1926),  ‘An impressionistic audience at the Free Exhibition’, 1891, graphic illustration, The Danish Art Library, Copenhagen

It was shown at the Free Exhibition in 1891, and was picked out by the satirical cartoonist Axel Theiss to make a prominent appearance in his illustration for the New Year annual, Blaeksprutten (The Octopus), the sill being hugely exaggerated, and the repoussé ears of wheat projecting wildly out of the painting. The Free Exhibition (Den Frie Udstillig) was founded by the Slott-Møllers, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Johan Rohde, J.F. Willumsen and others in protest against the academic stranglehold of the Kunsthal Charlottenborg. In this respect it was like the Grosvenor Gallery v. the Royal Academy in London, and the Salon des Refusés v. the Salon in Paris. It was instituted in 1891, and continues today. Theiss’s cartoon of the first exhibition shows other framing departures from the norm, but it is the cash-register shape he has made of Danish landscape which catches the eye. ] The visible grain of the wood helps to animate the lushness of the hyper-realistic gilt repoussé corn, whilst the bat-like ornament on the bottom rail contrasts with the fertility of a summer’s day shown in the painting.


Harald Slott-Møller (1864-1937), Spring, 1896, Hirschsprung Sammling, Copenhagen

[The frame of Slott-Møller’s Spring has much in common with his simpler design for Danish landscape; it is also far more sophisticated, although equally derived from a mediaeval/Renaissance altarpiece frame. This model can be seen in the effect of a canted rainsill and a predella panel at the bottom; the gilded lateral mouldings like colonets; and the enamelled butterfly roundels set into the outer wooden frieze, like the roundels of saints’ heads on an altarpiece frame by Cimabue or Duccio.  The grain of the wood is even more effective here, in counter-balance to the smooth gilt mouldings; it reflects the subject appropriately, and allows for the beautifully-crafted panel of inlaid shoots and buds in the predella. This is one of those frames which is so expressive of the theme of the painting, and presents the latter to the viewer with so much additional symbolism that it is hard to see how it can ever be published as an unframed image – especially on the website of the collection it inhabits. Without the frame, this is a painting of a girl sitting pensively on a grassy bank; with it, she is the goddess of spring, presented to her audience for reverence as – by concentration – she raises the plants from the ground before the spectator’s eyes.]


Jens Ferdinand Willumsen (1863-1958), Chestnut trees, 1891, o/canvas & panel, 96 x 95.5 cm., J.F. Willumsen Museum, Frederikssund

J.F. Willumsen painted Chestnut trees in 1891, the same year that Harald Slott-Møller exhibited Danish landscape, [and – as with the latter – the frame is equally distinctive. It is completely flat or plate frame, with a narrow inlay the same depth as the rest, so that the join between them is barely visible. This inlay has been carved out along the sight edge at top and bottom in random undulations which echo and contrast with the lines of hedgerow, treetops, ripples and clouds, and then the whole frame has been painted white, and the artist has signed it on the inlay at the base.

15B Charles Parrocel 1688to1752 La chasse de l éléphant 1735to39 Musée de Picardy Amiens

Charles Parrocel (1688-1752), La chasse de l’éléphant, 1735-39, one of ten canvases commissioned by Louis XV from various Rococo artists, Musée de Picardie, Amiens, on loan from Musée du Louvre

15C BOUCHER-The-Enchanted-Home-A-Pastoral-Landscape-surmounted-by-Cupid-127.5-x-109.5-cm

François Boucher (1703-70), The enchanted home: a pastoral landscape, o/c, 127 x 109 cm., Stair Sainty

Perhaps it can best be compared to a Rococo frame – which can encompass both giltwood frames which trespass on the canvas, and integral painted frames of landscapes; Willumsen’s work hovers between the two.] When Chestnut trees was shown at the Free Exhibition in 1892, he wrote in the accompanying text,

‘with the frame, I have attempted a style which will harmonize with the painting’ [20].


Jens Ferdinand Willumsen (1863-1958), Jotunheim, 1892-93, o/c, wood painted with zinc and enamel on copper, 152 x 275.5 cm., J.F. Willumsen Museum, Frederikssund

Jotunheim, one of Willumsen’s major works from the 1890s – in fact, one of the major works of Danish Symbolism of that decade – has a frame which plays an even greater rôle, taking the picture into the realm of sculpture, in which the relief elements and the chain of mountains on the crest were added to explain and expand upon the painting [21].

16B Max Klinger Judgement of Paris 1885to87

Max Klinger (1857-1920), The judgement of Paris, 1885-87, o/c, wood and plaster, 370 x 752 cm. overall, The Belvedere, Vienna

In this respect, it is related to Max Klinger’s Judgement of Paris a few years earlier; although Willumsen used enamelled copper relief panels where Klinger had sculptural figures moulded in plaster. Jotunheim was shown at The Free Exhibition in 1895, accompanied again by a short text by Willumsen:

‘ The clouds drifted away, and I found myself on the edge of a precipice, looking out across the mountainous landscape far to the north, sombre, brutal, covered with eternal snow and ice, a world uninhabitable by humans. The images in the relief were made under the influence of this awe-inspiring setting. The figures in the panel on the left represent those who seek with determination through learning and the intellect to find the connection between the infinitely great and the infinitely small. The infinitely great is represented by a stellar nebula; the infinitely small by microbes. The lowest figure is in the grip of inspiration, whilst the one at the top is convinced of the correctness of his researches. The relief on the right is in complete contrast; it depicts pointlessness – with two figures at the bottom, one of them weaving a piece of wicker which the other is unravelling just as quickly; then a group of figures expressing indifference or carelessness, and one at the top in the grasp of a chimeric dream. At the top the frame has the decorative representation of a mountain range of enamelled copper.’ [22]

Willumsen was meticulous in his design or selection of frames, and in many later works lets the motif continue onto the frame, or uses coloured mouldings to contrast with or accentuate his work; however, none of them were to be as fully integrated into the work of art as in Jotunheim.

The next generation

There were several artists in the Den frie Udstillung group who recognized the importance of the frame; amongst them, Joakim Skovgaard, Ejnar Nielsen, and Vilhelm and Svend Hammershoi. With regard to the work of Nielsen and Vilhelm Hammershøi, their frames are individually tailored in their form, or toned to fit with the respective work. Skovgaard and Svend Hammershøi, however, who were both involved in arts and crafts at different periods, designed models and mouldings for frames which were produced as repeated patterns.

17B Joachim Skovgaard in his studio

Joachim Skovgaard (1856-1933) in his studio, with frames

Several of Skovgaard’s frames are rooted in the NeoClassical styles of Damborg and others, given a contemporary twist for the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He might, for instance, keep the moulding at the sight edge whilst bringing the corner ornaments up-to-date; he was also keen on letting

‘the mark of the knife remain in the wood without sanding it away’ [23].

This reflected the current mood, where the clear impression of the process used to make the frame was valued. Svend Hammershøi also looked back in his designs to antique styles; it was said of him that he ‘achieves a lot in the tasteful reworking of the old masters’ [24].

18A PS Kroyer Portrait of the artist Thorvald Niss 1887 35.5x25cm Hirschsprung Coll

Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909), Portrait of Thorvald Niss, 1887, 35.5 x 25 cm., Hirschsprung Sammling, Copenhagen

[Peder Krøyer was another artist influenced by the arts and crafts movement – also by his visits to Paris, where he came into contact with the Impressionists and with Whistler, and to London, where he was able to see a great variety of artist-designed frames. His early frames were perhaps less than successful (above), but in the 1890s he developed some more muted but very decorative designs.

18C PS Krøyer Summer evening at Skagen 1892 205x123 cm Skagens Museum

Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909), Summer evening at Skagen, 1892, o/c, 206 x 123 cm.,and detail, Skagens Museum

The frame of Summer evening at Skagen (and also of The artist and his wife with the writer Otto Benzon) is a very simple architrave profile, its wide frieze decorated with a continuous undulating pattern of four-leafed clovers, painted in outline on the gilding. The effect is of a gentle flicker of movement around the painting; it is also flattening, and therefore particularly well-suited to the figure of the artist’s wife and dog set in a shallow foreground space, beyond which the eye can create either a distant recession or little recession at all. The same frame design on the other painting, of the Krøyers with Otto Benzon, succeeds less well, since the pictorial space is so well realized and perspectivally convincing; however, it is still an effective and very ornamental design.

18D PS Krøyer Summer evening at Skagen 1892 205x123 cm Skagens Museum 3

Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909),  Summer evening on Skagen Søderstrand, 1893, o/c, 100 x 150 cm., and detail, Skagens Museum

18A Krøyer Boys bathing at Skagen Statens Museum for Kunst Copnhagen

Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909),  Boys bathing at Skagen: summer evening, 1899, o/c, 100.5 x 153 cm., Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Summer evening on Skagen beach and Boys bathing at Skagen both have similar innovative frames, the ornament of which seems to recall and remake a Netherlandish ripple moulding. The top edge is cut away in a subtle wave pattern, echoed at the sight edge (more definitely wavy in Summer evening…), which seems to repeat the painted waves and margin of the tide; it is a decorative form which is at once historic, completely modern, attributive of its subjects, and attractive in itself.

18E Anchers Hus

A wall in the Anchers’ house, dense with framed portraits which include Krøyer (top centre), the critic Georg Brandes (centre, in a frame carved with butterfly-like leaves and stylized columns), and Thorvald Bindesbøll (2nd row, extreme right)

Skagen, where many of Krøyer’s paintings were set, became an artists’ colony like Pont Aven (to which it was compared), or St Ives. Two artists in particular, the husband and wife partnership of Anna and Michael Ancher, made their home there and entertained what became the Skagen Group of artists and writers. Their house has been preserved, with its stencilled and painted decoration looking back to the slightly earlier generation, who had been so influenced by the decorative frescoes of Pompeii; and the art which they both painted themselves and collected from their friends still hangs there, in a striking illustration of contemporary framing.]

Further interesting frames from the last decade of the 19th century originate from the workshop of Valdemar Kleis. Kleis became an important dealer, but he had begun his career as a gilder and maintained this craft throughout his life, which made him arguably the best Danish gallery-owner of the period. His success as a framemaker was more particularly due to his collaboration with the architect, ceramicist, and supporter of the Danish arts and crafts movement, Thorvald Bindesbøll.

19A Ludvig Find Portrait of Thorvald Bindesbøll Statens Museum for Kunst

Ludvig Find (1869-1945), Portrait of Thorvald Bindesbøll, with frames, 1891, o/c, 48 x 59 cm., Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Like Skovgaard, the latter was the son of one of the artists who had produced decorative work in the Pompeiian style, but the frames of this later generation were much more popular than those of their fathers.

19B Thorvald Bindesbøll attrib Looking glass Selency dot co dot uk

Thorvald Bindesbøll (attrib., 1845-1908), looking-glass,

19C Thorvald Bindesbøll Sketches for tiled stove screen 1 Lauritz Auctions 8Sept2021 Lot 6043145

Thorvald Bindesbøll (1845-1908), sketches for tiled fire screen with frame, two pages, Lauritz Auctions, Copenhagen, 12 July 2021, Lot 6043145

A great number of frames from this period were either developed from a sketch by Bindesbøll, or copied after his work, or made in his style. He designed a wide range of mouldings, from variations on Baroque and Rococo frames of the 17th and 18th centuries, to modern versions of classicizing frames; and his own organic, cloud-shaped ornaments were adapted to gilded mouldings, and finished with black or clear lacquers.

20 P S Krøyer Unidentified marine in Bindesbøll frame

P.S. Krøyer (1851-1909), unidentified coastal scene by moonlight, in Bindesbøoll frame


Jacob Thage is director of the Museum Jorn, Silkeborg (formerly Silkeborg Kunstmuseum), and is the author and co-author of works on Danish jewellery, Félicien Rops, and the 18th century Baroque mansion, Gl. Holtegaard, designed by the architect Lauritz de Thurah.


[1] According to Georg Nygaard, the few frames which Johan Rohde designed himself, mainly for his own paintings, were an expression of ‘the same sure mastery of form, shunning all bombast and effect, just as we know [Rohde] from other areas of craftsmanship’ (‘Lidt om rammer og indramning’, Skønvirke, vol 5, Copenhagen, unknown date, p. 70)

[2] Johan Rohde, Journal fra en rejse i 1892, Copenhagen, 1955, p. 125 ff

[3] It should be noted that Rohde was a great supporter of modern art, bringing to Denmark contemporary avant-garde works by artists such as Van Gogh and Maurice Denis

[4] Matthias Waschek, ‘Georges Seurat: the frame as boundary and extension of the artwork’, In perfect harmony, 1995, p.161

[5] See ‘How Pre-Raphaelite frames influenced Degas and the Impressionists

[6] The painting was originally intended to be dedicated to Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden, as symbol of German-Swedish alliance against Napoleonic invasion, but after the king was deposed in 1808, it was bought by the Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein for the chapel of Děčín Castle in Tetschen, Bohemia; it never actually stood in the chapel, however, as the Gräfin’s mother objected, and was instead hung in her bedroom.

[7] Louise Fussing, ‘N. A. Abildgard’, in Mirjam Gelfer Jørgensen (ed.), Herculanum paa Sjaelland, 1988, p. 33 ff

[8] Illustrated in Patrick Kragelund, Abildgard: Kunstneren mellem oprørerne, Copenhagen, 1999, vol. 2, p. 526

[9] Ibid.; on pp. 482-83 Kragelund discusses the possible influence of Abildgaard’s work on Caspar David Friedrich and Runge

[10] Several 18th century Danish frame patterns are known from their connection with important collections, such as those of Moltke and Holstein. Apart from their use is subsuming individual paintings into the collection as a whole, the slender rails of NeoClassical frames aided close hanging in galleries

[11] Mirjam Gelfer-Jørgensen, Danske nyantikke Møbler, 2003, Copenhagen, fig.5

[12] Wilhelm Zahn, Die Schönsten Ornamente un merkwürdigsten Gemälde aus Pompeji, 1828-50, Berlin

[13] Gelfer-Jørgensen, op. cit., fig. 5

[14] See note 12

[15] Gelfer-Jørgensen, op. cit., fig. 6

[16] Georg Nygaard, Lidt om Rammer og Indramning, 1919, p. 65

[17] Jorgen Roed’s painting and its frame are illustrated in Gelfer-Jørgensen, op. cit., fig. 2. This revival Renaissance-style was sweeping Europe in the 1850s and 1860s; see the examples illustrated in ‘19th & 20th century Italian framemakers: articles in The Burlington Magazine’.  The frame for Roed’s Raphael may have been made by Pietro Giusti of Florence, like the walnut frame which he carved for ‘The Kingston Lacey Raphael, with its bust of Raphael at the top, and portrait medallions down the sides.

[18] Marianne Koch, ‘Ingen ridder til skøn Agnes’,, Fyns Kunstmuseum, 5 February 2009

[19] Royal Library, illustrated in Bodil Busk Laursen & Aino Kann Rasmussen (eds), Agnes og Harald Slott-Møller: Mellem kunst ogidealer, exh. cat., Kunstforeningen København, 1988, pp. 23, 25, 42

[20] Peter Nørgaard Larsen, Symbolism in Danish & European painting, 1870-1910, exh. cat., Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, 2000, p. 304

[21] Ibid., pp. 62-63

[22] Ibid.

[23] Georg Nygaard, op. cit., p. 70

[24] Ibid.

21 Harald SlottMøller Portrait of Sigrid Undset 1923 o c Aschehougs Forlag Oslo

Harald Slott-Møller (1864-1937), Portrait of Sigrid Undset, 1923, o/c, private collection, Oslo