Edgar Degas reportedly once said ‘The frame is the reward of the artist’. A picture’s appeal (and even its value) can be diminished by a cheap frame, or one that is garish or unsuitable in style; equally, it can be enhanced by a stylish, sensitively chosen, period-appropriate example. Part of our job at Dickinson is to determine the best way to present and showcase each work we offer for sale, and that means evaluating the frame as well. Is it original? Does it need some attention to address areas of damage? Would the work benefit from an entirely new frame, and, if so, what sort? In this week’s insight, we’ll look at some frame highlights among the artworks we’ve handled here at Dickinson, as well as recommending some of our go-to experts for any framing needs you may have in your collection.

Different examples of gilded frames

One of the most intriguing frames we’ve handled in recent years arrived with a fascinating 1661 Portrait of Queen Christina of Sweden (1626 – 1689) by Wolfgang Heimbach. As the fragile frame was in need of a bit of TLC, we sought advice from Salisbury-based framer Doug McLeod, who identified it as probably British, circa 1765 (so about a century later than the painting itself) and carved of various pine and lime elements. Doug pointed to the broad range of references – incorporating naturalistic, architectural and even medical elements – and suggested that this unique work might be a workshop sample (perhaps originally a mirror rather than a frame) designed to show off the various skills of the creator to prospective patrons. It certainly captivated us, as it did the museum that went on to acquire this historically significant work!

W. Heimbach, Queen Christina of Sweden (1626 – 1689), standing full-length under a canopy, 1661, sold by Dickinson to a museum

Sometimes a painting arrives on consignment in a frame that looks a bit tired or dated. Such was the case with a superb Caillebotte consigned to Dickinson from a private American collection, Voiliers sur la Seine à Argenteuil (1886). The frame in which it arrived – featuring a somewhat dusty, beige fabric mount – did not do the painting any favours, and made it look a bit old-fashioned. It was an easy fix, however, thanks to London-based framer Rollo Whately, and the loan of a period-appropriate carved and gilded Louis XIV Impressionist frame. By showing this rare, fresh to the market Caillebotte off to best advantage at Masterpiece, we achieved a sale on behalf of the vendor.

G. Caillebotte, Voiliers sur la Seine à Argenteuil, 1886, sold by Dickinson to a private collector

Of course, in an effort to preserve original frames and to showcase an artwork to best advantage, there are sometimes creative compromises to employ. This was the route we took with a superb abstract by Portuguese artist Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, which arrived both unlined and in its original frame. To enhance the picture’s wallpower, we enlisted the help of New York framer Peter Muscato to add a modern white ‘float flame’ just outside the narrow original white frame. This choice – in addition to emphasising the painting’s impact and importance – does not detract from the original frame and is also completely reversible should a future owner ever wish to remove it.

M. H. Vieira da Silva, Le cataclysme, 1954, sold by Dickinson to a private museum

These are just a few of our favourite frame stories, but we think they help to demonstrate why the presentation of an artwork – and especially its frame – plays such an important role in exhibiting or selling it. In case you find yourself in need of a reliable framer, here are a few of the contacts in our address book, all of whom have done superior work for Dickinson in the past!

In the UK:

Gino Franchi [+44 (0)20 7629 6270; especially for works on paper]

Doug McLeod []

Paul Mitchell []

Rollo Whately []

Arnold Wiggins []


In New York:

NYC: Peter Muscato []

Julius Lowy Frame and Restoring Company []