How To Choose The Right Frame For Your Contemporary Painting

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There is never only one way to frame a painting, but there are various aesthetic considerations to keep in mind when selecting a frame for your art. To begin with, a frame should complement a painting without being visually distracting. It should also relate to the space in which the painting will be displayed. In this post, we highlight several points to consider when choosing a frame for your contemporary art.

Contemporary paintings and prints executed in mid- to late-20th- century styles such as Op Art, Pop Art, Minimalism, and Photo Realism often look best in minimalist gilded frames with a clean, smooth surface, which adds an attractive edge to the artworks.

Contemporary paintings done in more representational or expressive styles, however, are frequently displayed to optimal effect in frames with more traditional and complex surfaces finished with a richer, rubbed, or antiqued patina to complement the brushwork or style of execution. While there is no major difference in the processes used to create gilded finishes for both types of frames, the burnishing and gilding of the more contemporary styled frames requires a more exacting application to ensure the smoothest possible surface.

Lap marks are one of the most distinctive features on a contemporary frame. These bars, which occur at intervals along the profile, are caused by the overlap of gold leaf sheets applied during the gilding process. Although lap marks are less discernible on most traditional style frames, they are much more noticeable on those with smooth gilded surfaces. It is therefore desirable that the lap marks be thin, parallel, and consistent.

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There should not be evidence of too much overlap in the gold sheets. This effect is achieved by a precise application of the sheet of gold over a carefully applied gilding liquor (a mixture of glue, alcohol, and water) and by timely burnishing. If too much gilding liquor is applied, then the glue and alcohol can stain the gold, causing dull brownish spots to appear during burnishing. If, however, too little gilding liquor is applied, then the gold may not adhere to the surface properly. The gilder should also use care to avoid rips and wrinkles in the leaf. Finally, burnishing should be undertaken with consistent, even pressure to produce the desired smooth, reflective surface.


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Another feature that is especially prominent in contemporary frames is the rub-through, that is, the process by which a greater or lesser extent of the clay layer beneath the gilding is revealed. In either case, the clay surface should never be grainy. For contemporary frames, which have no surface ornament, a light, even rub-through revealing a smooth clay surface is always the goal. Different clay colors that alter the tone of the gold are often used. Red clay, for example, creates a warmer look, while blue-gray clay produces a cooler look. Many contemporary frames are gilded with silver leaf or white gold, and therefore the surface must be protected from exposure to the air with a clear lacquer that prevents the silver content of the gold from tarnishing.

Contemporary frame profiles are frequently crafted in simple flat, rounded, beveled or stepped shapes, which minimize interference with the subject matter. However, many collectors feel that some contemporary paintings can be enhanced using more expressive carved and ornamented moldings based on traditional antique frame styles to complement the style and personality of the artwork.

This article was reproduced with permission of Lowy. For more information about framing, please visit their website.