Tramp frames

19/20C Tramp frame, 20 1/2 x 16″ (52 x 40.5 cms)

Known as ‘Tramp frames’ or ‘Black Forest frames’ or ‘Hobo frames’ these sorts of frames date from the late 19C to the first half of the 20C.  A Wikipedia entry which says that it was an ‘art movement found throughout the world’ but concentrates on those found in North America.  Actually, they often come up in sales in Paris, and David Lacy often has some in his London shop (both of these came from him).

The frames are  typically made up of layered thin slices of wood, often with the notches that you can see in the example above.  The theory is that they were made on long winter nights by simple folk/prisoners of war/tramps but, whoever made them, they can be very sophisticated.

Tramp frame early 20C, 25 x 21″ (63.5 x 53 cms)

While many of these frames can be crude and rather folksy, sometimes they can also be really beautiful and have that balance thing going on that I like so much.  They must have taken quite a while to make (those long winter nights again) but are often made with a confidence in the pattern that is disarming.

And they are all different!  Many frame types are more or less generic – a French Louis XV pastel frame or an English Carlo or a Venetian pastiglia frame – but these, though they share the basics of this assembled construction and unfinished, or stained and part painted, surface, are all designed differently – as if that was part of the challenge, like God doing snowflakes.

20C Tramp frame made from clothes pegs, 23 x 19″ (58.5 x 48.5 cms)

A frame I recently bought can also be thought of as a Tramp frame though it is not made up of the usual layers but, rather, of split ordinary wooden clothes pegs.  To be honest, I didn’t realise this when I bought it, which I did just because its so good to look at. There were three half-pegs missing but I raided the laundry bag at home and, amazingly, they were almost exactly the same.

Detail showing profile of clothes pegs

I like minimalist music, Steve Reich or John Adams, where a simple pattern of notes (the clothes peg) is repeated in a loop but the loop is then off-set to create a pattern, like the interference patterns of two waves.  The other thing that came to mind with the raw unfinished material in this frame is so-called Brutalist architecture – like the wonderfully repeating Robin Hood Gardens Estate in Poplar in East London – (now very sadly being demolished.)



Spanish 19C polished wood frame, 14 x 11 1/4″ (36 x 28.5 cms)

This simple frame shows the impact of elegant design.  It has a slightly cushioned back edge, barely visible in the photo above – and was probably a print frame (it has a double rebate, sometimes used to keep artwork away from the glass).  It may have been one of many such made in a workshop in the 1860s, or 1900’s – I don’t know – but whoever came up with it just had a very good, pure, eye for design.

Papier maché


Spanish 17th or 18th Century black and gold frame with centre and corner ornament in gilded papier maché, 52 3/4 x 47 1/2″ (134 x 121 cms)

A very unusual Spanish frame with paper-moulded centres and corners.   This is quite a large frame and the boldness of the ornament means that it needs a strong, possibly modern, painting to frame.


19C polished hardwood frame, wedge section with brown polished outer edge, 36 x 27″ (91 x 69 cms)

Interesting frame, I am not sure what the wood is but it is polished to show the fine overall grain.  Might be in the Japanese style? It would make a marvellous mirror.


6879 -

Italian ? painted reverse wedge cassetta frame – 29 x 28″ (73.5 x 71 cms)

Elegant but confident painted frame with silvery gold sight and back edges, the painted surface a slightly uneven dusty green.  I had always thought how good a frame like this would look on a Lucian Freud painting…



Spanish 18 or 19C painted reverse plate frame, 17 x 14″ (43 x 36 cms)


This is a very attractive painted frame.  The painted wheatear-like flowers and leaves remind me of Bloomsbury ornament.  I also like how the sides of the frame taper slightly and are of different widths.



French 19C frame with applied embossed and gilded ornament, 18 x 13″ (46 x 33 cms)

Frames covered in embossed paper are fairly unusual – this one is in very fine condition and great care has been taken with the gilding.


White/off white painted and textured frame, probably English from the 1950’s, 21 x 15″ (53 x 38 cms)

Modernist frames are often the creation of artists and framemakers working in conjunction.  They can also be quite wacky and inventive.