Frame of Reference

The frame of a picture can have an enormous impact on the work, as expert framer Eli Wilner suggests with two works from the spring sales in New York

Page 26 of Sotheby's Preview Magazine May/June 2007

From the array of work I have seen this spring, I was particularly captivated and challenged by two paintings by Sir Alfred James Munnings and Pierre Bonnard. When framing a picture, the idea is to create a single, unified presentation with the painting as its central object and strongest element. I would never want a viewer to look at a painting and say 'what a great frame'.

I never approach a picture with a preconceived notion of what frame will be right for it. Sir Alfred Munnings' equestrian scene, Parade to the Post, Kempton Park, was displayed in the 18th-century style frame shown below left. During the early- to mid-20th century, art dealers often framed modern paintings in earlier frames in hopes of enticing traditionally minded collectors to add these modern works to their collections of 17th- and 18th-century art and furniture.

Viewing this work now, I would choose to enhance it with a more modernistic and simple frame, such as those designed by James Abbott McNeill Whistler such as the one I am holding here. This frame makes the painting seem brighter and take on an almost three dimensional quality.

When I first saw Bonnard's Nature morte au melon (below and page 46), I wanted a frame that would complement the artist's brush strokes. Eventually, I selected an Italianate frame with a rich flower motif that emulated the floral feel of the paint application.

When selecting the gilding, careful attention was given to the hue of the paint. The colours are subdued, so I picked out the gold in the bowl and sought a dark gilding that was similar in tone, yet did not compete with the painting – that is the whole idea of framing.

Eli Wilner with two framed paintings

Eli Wilner is founder & CEO of Eli Wilner & Company, Inc., a New York gallery specialising in 19th- & 20th-century American & European frames.

Eli Wilner with Sir Alfred Munnings' Parade to the Post, Kempton Park from the Collection of Randall and Ralph Roe, Greenwich, Connecticut (to be offered on 18 April in the 19th Century European Art sale in New York; estimate: $700,000-900,000) and Pierre Bonnard's Nature morte au melon (see page 46)