How to choose the right frame for your picture, Matthew Jones interview for Christie’s
12 August 2015
FINE ART | EXPERT GUIDES | AUGUST 11, 2015
How to choose the right frame for your picture - 10 expert tips on finding the perfect frame by Matthew Jones of John Jones London
1. Choosing a frame isn’t just about style
Selecting a frame isn’t just about choosing a colour and material. When a work comes into our studio, we take time to assess its condition, considering how a frame can not only present a work most effectively, but also protect it from damage and degradation. It’s also important to consider where the work will be displayed: is it going stay in the same place for many years, will it be in a home or a gallery, or will it be required to travel? All of these early questions guide us in choosing the right frame. We carry out condition reports, and we always recommend that we visit the client at the location the work will be hung so that we can make assessments.
2. Be sensitive to period — knowledge of a work’s past can be a useful design guide
JMW Turner, View of the Beach at Margate. Framed in a traditional contoured profile with antique gilding effect. © John Jones London
When framing a work, I take time to research its history, looking at how it has been framed in the past — considering the input of gallerists, curators and the artists themselves. Along with this archival research, it’s vital to get out and see the shows, which can be an excellent guide for hanging works from Old Masters to Contemporary pieces. Everything I do is built around knowledge: I’ve been a framer for around 30 years now, and can honestly say I’m learning all the time.
3. Original frames can be salvaged
Left (and main image at top): Gilder applying gold leaf to gesso frame. Right: Considering frame options. © John Jones London
Occasionally, I’m presented with a work that for aesthetic or historical reasons needs to stay in its original frame. It’s something I see with a lot of Old Masters, and, at the moment, the amazing amount of wonderful Modern British art we’ve been working with recently, such as Ben Nicholson, and Henry Moore. In this case, it’s important to check that the old frame is safe, and upgrade it where we can — there’s often a lot that can be done to improve its quality and longevity.
We recently framed drawings for an exhibition Henry Moore, From Paper to Bronze at Waddesdon Manor. We worked with The Henry Moore Foundation to make sure our frames were true to the style that Henry Moore drawings have always been framed, so that they matched the others from their collection. We have an archive of frame profiles at John Jones so that we can remain true to an artists’ style. Sometimes artworks can incur damage from original frames that sit badly, so we make a calm assessment and work from there.
4. The location of an artwork can be as important as its frame
A simple test for UV and humidity levels within a sealed enclosure. © John Jones London
When a work comes into our studio, it enters a ‘safe’ environment, with humidity and temperature perfectly controlled — something that’s an especially important consideration for the works on paper we handle. Of course, clients’ homes — and even museums and art galleries — aren’t always so regulated. For those concerned about creating the right environment for for works of art, it is possible to request an expert assessment of UV and humidity levels. As conscientious framers, we always say that our job isn’t done until the work is on the wall, and we can walk away being assured of its safety — and of the client’s own knowledge.
5. Use frames to create an artificial environment
Back of sealed enclosure showing indicator card and generous provision of Artsorb. © John Jones London
Where a work is displayed in less than ideal environmental conditions — such as somewhere particularly humid, or with high light levels — the frame can be used to regulate and counter outside conditions, or even create a specific microclimate. Working with our conservation studio, we produce sealed enclosures that allow the right environment to be maintained, regardless of external environment. It’s something I’d advise for a collection travelling, for example, from London to Singapore
It’s important, however, that whatever you seal up with the work isn’t going to cause damage. We take time to prepare works before sealing them in the frame, potentially cleaning and de-acidifying the piece, and replacing wood pulp boards with museum quality cotton boards. We use sealing techniques to help isolate conditions within the frame from those outside, whatever those might be. The materials selected during framing then manage this microclimate, and can include Artsorb to control humidity and Microchamber board to keep it free of pollutants.
6. Choose glazing carefully
Glazing being fitted within the frame © John Jones London
Though it may be surprising, as framers, we sometimes spend more time talking about the choice of glazing than we do the design of the frame itself. When choosing the most appropriate glass to cover a work, there are five important things to consider.
Number one — and perhaps the most important — is UV filter: glazing can be used to protect works from this most damaging form of light that might cause colour to fade. Two: it’s also important to choose a low-reflective material, that won’t interfere with the surface of the work when it’s displayed. Safety should also be a concern — ideally, the material in the frame should allow the artwork to be shipped and handled with minimal risk of breakage. The fourth consideration is weight: some materials can make a frame incredibly heavy, but there’s an acrylic we use that reduces weight by 50 per cent. Finally, the cost will be reflected by these choices, and depends on the priorities for the artwork and the client.
John Jones worked on the characteristic gold frames of Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which realised $142,405,000 at Christie’s in November 2013, setting the world auction record for any work of art
7. Don’t be afraid of a challenge — a conventional frame isn’t always the answer
A conventional frame isn’t right for every work: in the past, we’ve produced custom light boxes to display Banksy stencils, and have come up with creative solutions for even the most complex projects.Ralph Lauren came to us with a very old American flag, which was incredibly fragile. Our challenge was to ship the work to Paris, and display it on a high wall, up four flights of stairs. We made a folded stretcher frame, allowing the piece to be folded and unfolded, then added a big, ornate gold frame made in two sections — installing the work tentatively from the landing. It was a big challenge, not only because we were trying to explain the project to contacts based in America. Nevertheless, it arrived, was installed and looks fantastic. It jumps out as a perfect project.
John Jones produced a collection of frames for over 300 butterflies and moths for display in Ralph Lauren’s Rugby store © John Jones London
8. Sculptures deserve a good setting too
Though a plinth can be a simple white base, we try to produce pieces that work with the sculpture — that are going to set it off and get it noticed, such as a work by Liz Neal we have displayed in the John Jones private collection. Again, it’s also important to consider where a sculpture is going to be installed, and what it will be displayed alongside.
I’m working with a Conrad Shawcross piece at the moment, which will eventually be displayed outside. It’s about look and feel, but it’s also important that the plinth is capable of withstanding the elements. Other conditions include size, usability, and security.
9. A frame isn’t always necessary
I’m never afraid to say when a work doesn’t need a frame — it’s something that happens, and which I’m very open about. In our framing showroom at John Jones, I’ve hung a painting without a frame. We did, however, make the stretcher for the work, working with the artist from the beginning to make a panel which was the right depth, shape, and which sat well on the wall. We might frame it one day to protect it, but it certainly doesn’t need it from a visual point of view.
10. A good frame can transform a work
The framing process is made up of myriad considerations. Matt Jones in the frame design process. © John Jones London
A good frame can completely change a work. I very much want the outcome of the project to be what I call the ‘three wows’. When you first see a work that’s been framed, you should be drawn immediately to the image itself. We then like the eye to cast out to the frame, and — finally — to make a connection with the object in its entirety. If you’ve got a slight imperfection on the frame, or a slight imbalance in colour, it’s going to distract you from your enjoyment of the image. It’s really about harmony.
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