Two Louis XV frames

Here is that frame below after some work – removing the bronze was more difficult than expected, especially from the matt areas.  Using stripper also revealed some old repairs to some of the top edge and those holes through the hollow, where the frame is very thin and generations of people have accidentally screwed through to the front.

Borys has done some work on the frame, looking very good again –  here with a larger LXV frame, asymetric but sadly overgilded – what will we have to do to that one to make it good again?

Paris in London

Sometimes you can buy very fine French frames without going to Paris. This phone-snap shows five frames, one bought just before Christmas and the others last week, all in London – a nice Louis XIII that was dirty and bronzed; a lovely Louis XV corner pattern, also bronzed (but I am working on that); a pair of near perfect Louis XIV ‘Convent work’ reliquaires in good Louis XIV pierced frames and a fine Louis XVI fluted hollow with that angled re-cutting that you only get on frames like this.  There were two sales in Paris last week as it happens but I am still nervous about the Brexit effect, shipping and VAT being so complicated and expensive…  I spoke to someone recently who said it took 6 months to get a low value picture delivered to London what with all the paperwork…

17C French pierced frame

French 17C pierced frame, 11 1/4 x 8 1/2″ (28.5 x 21cms)

A small French Louis XIII period frame in a rather Italianate style, carved not in oak but lime and very fragile.

Pastel frame, perfect

French LXV pastel frame, 23 1/4 x 19″ (59 x 48 cms)

French and English

Outer English centre and corner 30 x 25″   —  Inner French corner runner 12 1/2 x 10″

Recently used on a small 17C portrait, the inner frame is an example of a handsome small French frame.  I photographed it with a recent acquisition, an good English 18C 30 x 25″ portrait frame.  It is interesting to see how the frames differ – in the carving which is more formal, more restrained in the French frame – in contrast to the exuberant, almost doodled English pattern.  The difference in the gilding is also apparant – the English frame is oil gilded and has a wonderful sharpness, partly helped by an even all-over craquelure which is attractive.  The French frame is water gilded, more rubbed and modulated – I want to say altogether classier, but, then, the English frame is flashier…

Louis XIV frame

Sometimes even a frame that has been modified in its sizes just looks so good – this one is a French 18C centre and corner frame – quite large – and, even in a photograph, shows how good the French were at combining elegance and seriousness.

French 18C centre and corner frame, 43 1/2 x 31 1/2″ (110.5 x 80 cms)

Perfect 19C French Empire frame

19C French Empire frame, 30 3/4 x 24 1/2″ (78.1 x 62.2 cms)

There is something very pleasing about these frames, increasingly uncommon to find in untouched original condition.

French or Italian?

Bought in Paris, Italian section, French carving (well at least the back edge leaf though the main top edge is quite Florentine), Italian wood and Italian construction, French hazzling, French clay, gilding and colour. 

Piedmont? Lombardy? Swiss??

Louis XVI frame

Small French Louis XVI frame, original size and finish, 7 x 4 3/4″ (18 x 12 cms)

An example of perfect Louis XVI frame making – I saw a similar frame, same pattern, same size at the stall in the Marché Vernaison in Paris belonging to Kevin Ricordel.

Louis XIIIAn unusual French frame, very fine.  It has a label on the reverse from the Maison Grosvallet, a (now closed) Paris frame shop which had the most beautiful frames.  They did not have a huge stock but everything in there was just perfect.

French 18C print frames

There is a certain kind of frame made in France in the second half of the 18C that is very simple but often exquisitely made.  Sometimes known as baguettes (erroneously, see below), they have all the ingredients of a perfect frame – perfect taste, French workshops with the exceptionally high standards of the late 18C, fine grained oak, French gesso, chisel like re-cutting, French gilding and patination.

LXVI mouldling frame, 22 3/4 x 16 1/2" (57.5 x 42 cms)

LXVI moulding frame, 22 3/4 x 16 1/2″ (57.5 x 42 cms)

In my experience these frames are mostly used for prints – which were enormously popular in France in the later 18th and 19th Centuries.

The frames are characterised by a simple section with a broad flat frieze or hollow, gessoed and often elegantly re-cut and gilded.  Some of these frames are made in oak, mitred and keyed at the corners.

Others are more simply made.  Compare the corner joint above with the one below – where a moulding has been put on top of a half lapped back frame.  The advantage of this was that the carved moulding could be made in the length and cut to size attached to the backframe before being gessoed and gilded.  The ‘stepped out’ back frame is quite usual in this type of frame, which is correctly called a baguette.Note also that the baguette molding is carved in pine, whereas the one  above is carved in oak and keyed in the more traditional French way.  Indeed, some of these, fairly narrow print frames, were blindstamped by the makers, for instance by Pepin (the explanation for which see elsewhere in this section). In the 19C frames were more often made in soft wood, often also keyed, like this one, that I have at home

The following are examples of plain French LXVI print frames – notice the slight wobble in the re-cut moulding, the dark red clay colour and the almost gilt-bronzey finish to the gilding

These are also plain, but probably more from the early 19C –

And this one, same plain moulding but the frieze coloured black (a particular kind of black) and polished, with gold sight and top edges – one theory is that frames were made like this as a mark of mourning for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, a theory that the frame below this one adds credence to.

The slightly broader LXVI frames derive from wider patterns and often have lamb’s tongue sight edge ornament – this one a particularly fine example of French restraint –

The lamb’s tongue and pearl motifs lend themselves very well to the baguette type frames ……. and for use in compo to cope with the greater demand for print frames in the 19C – note the absence of re-cutting in these examples as well as a much yellower finish –

English 19C Empire

French or English 19C heavy Empire frame, 29 1/2 x 24 1/2″ (75 x 62 cms)

This frame is probably English.  But it looks French, and (because we had to try it on one, of the rearing-man-on-a-horse variety) looks very good on French paintings.   The size is typically English (30 x 25″) and the gilding also typical of English gilding of the early 19C.  It is a good example of how well framers in London could imitate the French styles.

Without the apple, which is a variety originating in the Netherlands, it is impossible to imagine the scale of the frame from a photo – it is quite a chunky one!

French Louis XV

French 18C frame, pastel section with carved corner ornament,               18 1/2 x 14 1/2″ (47 x 37 cms)

A frame I bought recently in Paris – this photograph doesn’t really convey just how lovely it is and it is very hard to put it into words!  Although there is not much of the original gilding left (I removed some bronze wax and a nasty pinkish paint) it still twinkles here and there and, once again, it is that thing I have about balance in French frames – how everything is just right – weight, section, ornament all work together just perfectly.  That it is almost 300 years old helps…

French Régence frame

French Régence frame with centres and corners, all carved, original gilding 12 3/8 x 9 3/8″ (31.5 x 24 cms)

Wonderful small French frame in unusually perfect condition.  Carved in walnut, it may have been made for a small Dutch painting (from an inscription on the back).  The frame has a fully carved, and rather delicate, sight edge and back edge and the elaborateness of the carving suggests it must have been made for an important house or even a royal palace.The frame has a little section drawing on the back — it doesn’t appear to be for this frame but for another one.

Louis XV

French 18C carved and pierced frame with lattice-work pattern in the hollow, 31 1/2 x 25″ (80 x 64 cms)

A frame that I have had for some years, bought, I think from Timothy Newbery  and then dry-stripped.   A very unusual pattern with the lattice-work pattern in the hollow, all beautifully re-cut, French standard portrait size and very elegant.

Louis XIII/Bagard

French 17C carved reverse section frame 19 3/4 x 13 1/8″ (50 x 33.2 cms)

This frame is of a type known to framers as Bagard  after the French sculptor César Bagard (1620-1709).  Bagard worked in Nancy, in Northern France, and is known for his sculptures in bois de Sainte Lucie — a kind of cherrywood.  This frame is indeed made out of some kind of hard fruitwood — probably cherry and is typical in its ornament of a stiff acanthus leaf pattern on a reverse section frame. Here is a raking photo of a corner to show the section and a picture of the reverse of the frame, showing a half-lapped construction — if you look carefully at the sight edge along the top of the reverse you can see a little inserted repair.  There is the same thing at the sides and at the bottom of the frame.  These frames were often used to frame carved crucifixes and perhaps this one once had a crucifix in it, most likely also carved from cherrywood.




French Régence ogee section frame 26 3/4 x 21″ (68 x 53 cms)

This frame has that perfect balance I like so much; it has a label on the back suggesting that it had a print in it — superbe epreuve!One of the things that delights me about old frames is how the same section can be used to make frames of that at first sight look so completely different, but are actually very similar — here is one with a section not unlike the above, not at all a common section,  adapted to make a neo-Classical frame — which, incidentally, seems to me to be a near perfect French frame.  (I think the photographs possibly exaggerate the effect, but note the warm redness of the earlier frame contrasted against the cool yellowness of the neo-Classical one.)

Louvre, Paris: Rosalba Carriera Jeune Fille Tenant une Couronne de Laurier. Louis XVI frame.

 Louis XIV


French Louis XIV frame, 36 x 23 1/4″ (91 x 59 cms)

 Louis XV


French Louis XV hollow section frame with corners, 29 x 24″ (74 x 61 cms)

Good example of a simple Louis XV frame.  Note the re-cut sight edge ornament, the flattened shell motifs in the corners, and the shallow carved leaf ornament trailing from the corners.

  Louis XIV


A lovely French frame, yellowy colour with much of the original detail retained.


Transitional frames

The French Transitional pattern is possibly the most developed of French generic frame patterns.  The ‘transition’ is that between between Louis XV style, rococo/swept/full of movement and Louis XVI style with a change towards neo-Clasicissm, more stylised, less naturalistic and with elements from the neo-Classical repetoire of lamb’s tongue, ribbon twist and fluting.

Transitional copy

French 18C Transitional frame, washed over 26 x 20 1/2″ (66 x 52 cms)


There is a label on the back of the frame suggesting that it had once housed a Degas painting of dancers. Clearly the gilding and red clay has been washed off this frame quite carefully, leaving traces of the original surface.  This is a finish that the French call decapé which is associated with the framing of Impressionist paintings.

Trans.-gilding-detailCorner detail showing remains of yellow ground, red clay and gilding on gessoed surface.

Below another frame of similar pattern, with original gilding.


18C Louis XIV centre and corner frame, partially stripped.


French 18C frame, top and left with later oil gilding removed, 26 ¼ x 20 ¾” (67 x 53 cms)


The same photograph but in black and white. This shows more clearly the difference between the original surface (top and left) and the later oil gilded surface.


I have removed later gilding from many frames over the past 20years but am still astonished by the difference a few microns of ill-conceived regilding can make — and not just to the surface of the frame but to the whole design of the thing which relies on the detail of the carving and recutting of the gesso — all lost.  I am not sure why anyone ever thought this was a good idea but I am glad they did as it gives us a chance to remove it!

 Louis XIV

Beautiful-French-frame-bSmall French frame, lovely carving and surface — this photograph taken in low light to imitate candlelight, in which gilding is at its very best.

Louis XV

Lovely little French Louis quinze frame, recently dry-stripped to give a decappé finish.  It is remarkable that so much work went into making something so small — the sight size is just over 8×6″ — the section, design, carving, re-cutting and gilding all done with the great craftsmanship that is so reliably typical of frames made in Paris in this period.  This example needs some repairs, hardly visible in this photograph, but otherwise is all there.


Louis XIII


The finish is the result of ‘dry-stripping’ (picking off) a later layer of oil gilding laid on a thin coat of gesso.  This oil-over-gilding of watergilded frames is often seen on  French 17th and 18th Century frames that made their way to England in the 19th Century where a flatter, brighter finish was much more popular.  It is a lot of work picking it off (about 60 hours on this small frame) but, I think, well worth the effort.

Louis XIII


French 17C stiff-leaf pattern frame, 35 x 28″ (89 x 71 cms)

Louis XVI


French late 18th Century fluted hollow frame. SIght size 15 1/4 x 12 1/2″

This frame has a blind stamp on the reverse with the makers name – E L INFROIT – which was required by French law.  Other famous makers known by these blind stamps include Cherin and Pepin.



19C Charles XDouble-bubbleTwo frames, the outer one is a French 19C moulding with composition sight edge, with a lovely speckled finish that one sometimes sees on frames of this type – not sure why it is, perhaps a deterioration of a top layer of animal size?

The inner frame is a very specific kind of Italian 19C frame where the ornament is not carved in the wood but cut into thick gesso.  The flat tops of the carving create an effect that catches the light beautifully.