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Framing Fine Art

By Lisa Thomas

Lot 128, After Alexander Pope: Greater Scaup, group of 11 prints, unframed.

Most Fine Art sold at Stair comes to us from consignors in frames. While we do not add value to a work of art based on its frame, the framing is important and is critical in protecting the condition of the work, complementing the aesthetic of the work and helping to maintain the work’s value over time. Many condition issues arise when a work is improperly framed, so working with a professional and experienced framer is very important. Most frame shops work with archival framing materials that will help protect the work of art over a period of time. A framer who uses “museum-quality” archival framing will use 100% cotton rag, or another all-natural material, for their mats and backboards. Any material that touches the work of art needs to be of a material that will not produce acid that can stain the paper or canvas over time. Hinges should be linen, which provide the greatest support to the paper and can be removed without damaging the reverse of the sheet.

Lot 125, Continental School: Head of a Woman, unframed.

Most paintings are framed without glass, but a work on paper needs the protection of glazing so that dirt and other particles do not come in contact with the fragile paper. The glazing should be UV blocking glass. This type of glass does not totally block out harmful ultraviolet light, but it provides some protection. All works of art should be kept out of direct sunlight and harsh indirect light. Oil pigments, watercolor, ink and even pencil will fade, and the paper will become brown and “light-stained” over time. The glazing in the frame should never come in direct contact with the paper. Rather, some sort of “spacer” should be used, usually a mat. This gives the paper a tiny bit of air to breathe and helps defend against condensation and particle build-up directly on the paper. If matting does not suit the work of art, the framer can “float” it in the frame to create the same space needed to protect the work of art.

Paintings are usually framed in wood or a wood composite of some sort. A good framer can help choose the type of wood and style that will best suit your painting. Period frames have significant value and should not be removed. A period frame can help to date the painting and substantiate an artist attribution. In addition, there are many artists who designed their own frames and the frames themselves are considered part of the work of art.

Works of art that come to us without a frame are placed in a plastic sleeve for protection during the auction process. We recommend that the buyer have an unframed work framed as quickly as possible to help protect it. Storage of works on paper without frames should also be in archival, acid-free materials, and in an environment without humidity. No cardboard please!

Unframed works in our January 16th Exposition Sale:

  • Lot 125, Continental School: Head of a Woman
  • Lot 128, After Alexander Pope: Greater Scaup
  • Lot 130, Frederick Pegram (1870-1937): The Artist and Model

For custom framing and antique frames:

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