Frames

Frame conservation was one of the first conservation departments established at the National Gallery of Art. With the Gallery’s renewed focus on reframing the collection with authentic period frames, the department’s role has expanded significantly. Frames are integral to the presentation of the object, but they must enhance—not distract from— the picture and secure it safely. To do this, the frame conservation staff integrates traditional skills and techniques with modern materials and approaches. Conservators work with rare, antique period frames or meticulously create new frames in an authentic period style.

The Significance of the Frame

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Visitors to an art museum may never realize how important a frame is to their enjoyment of a work of art. Not only do frames protect and support artwork, but their design and materials must complement and enhance the art without overpowering it. The National Gallery of Art has an established philosophy of using period frames whenever possible, substituting reproduction frames in an appropriate style when necessary.

Frames are often more complex than they appear, and their preservation depends on proper care and treatment. Antique frames are traditionally made of gesso and carved wood and then gilded. Some are made of exotic solid or veneer wood. All frames are vulnerable to the same forces of deterioration that may threaten the artwork they are meant to protect. 

When period frames are not available, conservators must become innovators. Our staff has even replicated antique machines to construct frames that have the look and feel of a particular period style. The efforts of frame conservators contribute to the museum experience in myriad ways.

Frame Conservation

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Frames are integral to the presentation of an object, but they must enhance—not distract from—the picture and secure it safely. As fashions have changed over time, so have approaches to framing art. 

The National Gallery of Art is dedicated to framing paintings using genuine period frames or carefully recreated frames in the correct style. To do this, the frame conservation staff integrates traditional skills and techniques with modern materials and approaches. Attention to detail is so meticulous that our conservators have gone so far as to replicate antique machines to construct new frames that have the look and feel of a particular period style. 

In addition to reproducing period styles anew, conservators have access to an extraordinary group of antique Kress frames for use with the Gallery’s works of art. As beautiful and significant as the works of art they surround, the Kress frames must be kept in a stable environment. Conservators also work closely with our loans and exhibitions department to assemble microclimate packages, which are often incorporated within the frame structure. 

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