I have recently helped two friends of mine choose new frames for paintings that they own. It was an experience that reminded me how fraught with complication (and fascination) the whole business of putting frames on pictures actually is.


Each of my friends took a very different approach, as I might have expected, since they are very different people. Friend A is a retired builder and decorator, who had inherited a pleasing but not especially valuable depiction of a Devon landscape painted by a follower of Constable sometime in the 1860s. The picture as it had come down to him was in quite bad shape, murky with one or two tears in the canvas, and had no frame on it at all. Friend A was happy to follow my advice. First I arranged for a friendly restorer to remove what William Hogarth used to call “the smoke of time”, revealing a beautifully fresh dawn sky in which some abbreviated birds could now be seen to wheel and swoop; some verdant trees with foliage as delicate as sprigs of parsley; and a woodland stream being traversed by a man in a cart distinctly reminiscent of Constable’s rather more famous Haywain. Next I took the picture to a framer, who suggested a restrained but nonetheless substantial gilded frame of the kind Constable himself often put on his own smaller pictures. My friend was happy to follow the advice, and the restored and reframed painting now looks thoroughly charming, hung as it now is on a background of William Morris wallpaper above the mantelpiece of a Sussex farmhouse.


Friend B is, as it were, a different kettle of friend: a fund manager with a large collection of (mostly) modern works of graphic art, including a number of enormous Art Deco posters....

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