To frame or not to frame –

Art is framed to enhance the presentation and to provide protection. Watercolors and prints are often collected in greater numbers than oils and are more likely to be stored than hung for viewing. When storage in boxes or portfolios is more suitable for protection, matting may still be appropriate for viewing.

Framers are both craftsmen and artists with some frames more valuable than the painting they protect. A good frame can contribute to the visual pleasure of a painting and improve the value. A not so good frame can have the opposite effect, devaluing the art it embraces. One example can be seen below. This painting is an unsigned and unattributed painting in the style of Paul Cezanne.

A framed oil painting of a fishing shack in the manner of Paul Cezanne.

After owning this painting for more than twelve years I’m still enjoying it. Some five years ago I decided it deserved a new frame. I chose an appropriate molding and a liner for greater width. The plain gold molding is fine but the linen is too stark and out of character for the period it represents! For this painting, I should have paid more for a broader molding, used a gold liner, or shopped around for a vintage frame of the correct dimensions. As it is, I’m left with a painting that may have to be sold for less than I have invested. Or, I may elect to replace the liner!

Some paintings may not be worth the cost of framing, If a painting is likely to be re-sold, reframing might be best left to the new buyer. Thistle Fine Art has always offered both framed and unframed art. The framed art is not always in perfect condition or suitable for the art mounted in the frame but is retained for protection while in storage. There can be no rigid rule about when or if a painting should be reframed, but there are some common sense guidelines. If purchasing an unframed painting or print for hanging, the cost of the frame is a primary consideration. I’ve actually paid more for a new frame than I did for the painting on a few occasions. There are a few instances when this has been appropriate, but my advice is to limit frame cost to no more than a third of the art investment.

Art sold online is usually shipped, adding to the buyer’s cost. It stands to reason, therefore, the cost of framing by the buyer can be partially offset if the painting is sold unframed. When setting estimates and considering customer offers, shipping costs are my primary consideration – the point where I must start in determining if an offer is acceptable. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the cost of shipping will average about $25 for small framed paintings, $50 for medium sized art, and $100 or more for really large and/or heavy items. The cost for international shipments will vary considerably. A few paintings in my collection/inventory will require a wooden crate for shipment, adding substantially to the cost. So, it’s obvious unframed art estimates will normally be significantly lower than framed art.

Bear in mind the difference between value and price! I’ve been able to reframe paintings with good quality frames and matts when I was able to buy something that I knew, or subsequently learned, was of greater value than the “asking” price when purchased. No collector or dealer will always know the value of an art object, so there will be occasional “bargains”. As already stated, inappropriate frames and shipping costs add to the cost estimate so removal of the offending frame before shipping makes good sense.

There is much that can be written about art and framing. A good eye for art will usually extend to choosing a frame but custom framing requires one to imagine how it will look when finished. I’ve made a few mistakes in my choice of molding and/or matting! Stick to conservative styles and one can’t go too far awry. For watercolors that usually means a reasonably narrow molding and between 2 and 3 inches of matting. I generally favor wider matts, but that’s just a personal preference. I also think there should be more space between the image and the molding at the bottom – so I choose 3″ on the sides and top, and 3.5″ at the bottom! Adjusted for the size of the art, of course.

Oil paintings usually require a wider molding but for smaller works a narrow frame probably is better. In all cases, oils are not overwhelmed by wider, ornate frames in the way more delicate works on paper are.

Just as art is personal, so is choice of frames. The right frame will enhance the pleasure of a painting without intruding on the appreciation of the art. A wrong frame may devalue the enjoyment of a painting by drawing attention from the art.

The answer to my Shakespearian question is to frame or re-frame when the value justifies further enhancement of the art and doesn’t exceed the cost of the artwork. That’s pretty common sense advice – but still deserves careful consideration.

By Lowe

Retired director of Thistle Fine Art.

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