The frame-maker, as he is known today, arrived late on the artisan stage. Prior to the renaissance, framing is carried out by cabinet-makers or wood gilders, as there is no distinction between the frame and the artwork. Both originate from the same wood : the central portion for the painting and the exterior edges, bare or sculpted, form the frame.
One of the first known framings, in which the frame and the subject are two distinct parts, dates back to the year 1538. The frame was purchased by Francois 1st by an unknown framer.
It is under the reign of Louis XIV that the title of frame-maker officially appears. At this time, solid wood is carved (notably oak, walnut, or other fruitwood), and then gilded with gold-leaf. This process is a success and influences the art of frame-making right up to our time. The frame, a work of art in it’s own right, is not accessible to all budgets. Thus, the capital of England, sees a proliferation of shops offering frames at an affordable price. From the Regency, to the reign of Louis XV, the simple sculptures decorating frames are replaced by interwoven and asymmetrical shapes. The style is termed ” Rocaille “.
Around the middle of the XVIIIth century a return is made to a simple design. This change of style is progressive, and for a period the new rigid and straight lines mix with the more flamboyant Rocaille style. The change from the Rocaille style to ” neoclassicism ” is known today by the term ” transition “. Around 1775, Roman and Greek design replacesthe costly luxuriance under the reign of Louis XV. The borders return to the design of antiquity. Shells and arabesques are replaced by ribbons, water leaves, braids, pearls…
At the end of the XVIIIth century, that is to say, at the very beginning of the industrial age, and owing to the discovery of wood pulp and mastic, frame-makers become industrial and the mass-produced models are no longer the works of an artisan. Reproducing a motif using a stamp is far less costly than requiring a sculptor’s gouge and chisel. We witness a decline and the end of a glorious era in the art of woodworking, and sculpted wood frames are increasingly rare.
Under the empire, frames are inspired by antiquity. They are stained black and the edges are embellished with majestic gold motifs : laurel leaves, palm-leaves, ferns, crowns or garlands. The use of natural dark wood, such as mahogany, becomes widespread.
At the beginning of the XIXth century, lighter woods are preferred : elm, ash, sycamore, walnut, lemon, and these replace the dark essences of the austere Empire. Under Louis-Philippe the style remains simple with slightly curved lines. However, the arrival of new materials favours the creation of new techniques giving free reign to the imagination of the artist and styles are mingled and combined. It is interesting to note that for a long time, the essential objective of framing was not to embellish the beauty of that which it surrounded. The frame is a work of art in it’s own right, and at times had even more value than the painting : it was actually in competition with that which it should have been show-casing. The observer is placed before two distinct creations.
At the beginning of this century, with new schools of painting, the proliferation of works on paper (lithography, silkscreen printing, engraving, etc.) those in the field needed to rethink the art of framing. “Stylish” wood frames, often far too costly, are becoming rare, furthermore, they no longer convey the message of the artist. Fine art styles are perpetually evolving and must be enhanced by frames of a similar tendency, in respect of the ideas and styles that they convey. Glass appears in front of works on paper as a protection. These glazed framed drawings and engravings are enhanced by bordering them with colored paper or fabric. Very rapidly, during the XXth century, framing techniques multiply, but this time, to the advantage of the work being framed.