Framing the Australian Impressionists in France


It is widely acknowledged that the Impressionists developed a radical style of painting. From their choice of subject to the materials and techniques they used, their approach was a deliberate rejection of the prevailing academic tradition. What is less well known is that their unconventional approach was not constrained to the canvas alone but spilled over the edge and onto the frame.

 

Departing from the ornate gilded frames that defined the Salon works of their predecessors and most of their contemporaries, many Impressionist painters began experimenting with simpler frame shapes (or profiles) that were finished with painted, stained or raw timber surfaces and which lent their works an unmistakably modern feel.  Illustrative of the care that some of these artists took with their frame designs Edgar Degas documented his picture frame designs in a sketchbook, while the preferences of other Impressionist painters can be reconstructed from letters between the artists and their dealers, or through the close examination of early exhibition photos.

 

Sadly, only a few of these artist designed (and occasionally artist made) frames remain as the majority of these works were reframed by various collectors and dealers over the course of the previous century.  Nevertheless, in the lead up to the Australian Impressionists in France exhibition, the NGV Frames Committee (jointly comprised of conservators and curators) has been working hard to help rediscover the possible framing styles preferred by artists such as John Russell and to reproduce credible versions of these frames with the aim of best representing the paintings as the artist may have intended.

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