The importance of a frame in the display and care of a work of art cannot be underplayed. Master framer Paul Mitchell has been working alongside Sotheby's and our clients for many years, as well as sourcing, repairing and restoring the finest frames for paintings owned by the leading museums, institutions and private collections around the world. Ahead of the London Old Masters Evening and Day Sales, he gives candid insight into four works across the sales, notable for their exceptional frames.
AMBROSIUS BOSSCHAERT THE ELDER, STILL LIFE OF TULIPS, WILD ROSES, CYCLAMEN, YELLOW RANUNCULUS, FORGET-ME-NOT AND OTHER FLOWERS, IN A GLASS BEAKER. ESTIMATE: £800,000—1,200,000.
Early 17th century Netherlandish cabinetmaker's frame, veneered in Indian ebony, with an architrave profile, plain mouldings, cappings and veneers on a pinewood half-lapped back frame; the finish having a natural patina.
Many of Bosschaert's flowerpieces are painted with a dark background, against which the enamelled colours of the flowers glow compellingly. The ebony frame extends this dark ground into the interior where the painting hangs, opening the latter out and giving it space and importance. It is highly probable that an artist as innovatory as Bosschaert would have been aware of this fact, and would himself have taken full advantage of the new fashion for these black frames — which had grown since the creation of the Dutch East India Company in 1602 brought much larger quantities than before of ebony wood into Amsterdam. Between 1590 and 1626 (when they were registered as a separate class of craftsman in the guild of woodworkers) the number of ebony workers increased, although they remained a small, elite group. The simple profile indicates that this frame was made specifically as the foil to a small and precious painting, rather than a looking-glass.
DAVID MORIER, A PORTRAIT OF WILLIAM KERR, 4TH MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN ON A CHARGER, HIS AIDE-DE-CAMP TO THE LEFT, AND A MILITARY ENCAMPMENT BEYOND. ESTIMATE: £30,000—50,000.
Mid-18th century British Rococo giltwood frame, with pierced shell-&-foliate corners and rocaille-&-foliate centres joined by S-scrolling rails; flowered rinceaux and acanthus-tip sight edge.
A characteristically British version of the Rococo frame, dating from its heyday in the mid-18th century. Newbattle Abbey, where the painting hung, was progressively updated during the late 17th and 19th centuries, and its furnishings would have been modified in keeping with contemporary style; this genre of framing reflected the coming of curvaceous and comfortable sofas and chairs to replace the linear classicism of the Palladian vocabulary. The light and airy pierced silhouette is peculiarly British, as against the more sculptural French Rococo; it is found on conversation pieces by, for example, Arthur Devis, whose technique and vision is very close to that of Morier.
BERNARDO STROZZI, SAINT APOLLONIA. ESTIMATE: £30,000—40,000.
17th century Italian Baroque frame with ogee bolection profile, carved with acanthus-&-tongue ornament and gilded.
The Baroque frame is notable for its use of projecting and retreating surfaces, manipulation of light and sense of movement. This is a substantial but sensitively-carved frame, contemporary with the painting, in which Baroque theatricality is subsumed into the softly lyrical passage of feathered leaves and curling tongued motifs around the border. It lights and highlights the saint's profile in the upper left quadrant, and echoes the forms of flesh and folded velvet. The bolection profile pushes the picture surface outward from the wall towards the spectator, and would have given it added emphasis and focal importance in the Baroque interiors of the time.
JOHN CLOSTERMAN, PORTRAIT OF A BOY SEATED IN A LANDSCAPE, WITH A SPANIEL AND A FLINTLOCK. ESTIMATE: £10,000—15,000.
Second half of the 17th century British Auricular giltwood Sunderland frame, with leatherwork elements, foliate, winged and marine motifs between a scrolling and irregular contour and sight edge; with a cartouche at the crest held in concentric voluted forms, and a mascaron at the base.
The Sunderland frame was named in the 19th century after Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland, because of the number of portraits in his collection at Althorp in Northamptonshire which are framed in this style. It is a specific variation on the leatherwork Auricular frame, identifiable by the idiosyncratically shaped sight edge which encroaches onto the picture surface. The flat, shallow carving is typical of the British Auricular style, as against that of the Netherlands or Italy; it is graphic, fluent, and – although appearing to be flamboyantly spontaneous – its flow of motifs is carefully ordered. Its curves reflect the lines of contemporary costume, as evident in the relationship with this portrait, and would also echo the style of silverware in the house. Other collections of Sunderland frames can be seen in Ham House and Kingston Lacy.