The IMA rarely has the luxury of reframing the paintings in its collection, since funds to pay for new frames are not readily available. A frame is an important part of a painting that serves not only to enhance the image but also to protect it. Several paintings at the IMA have unsuitable frames that do nothing to enhance the beauty of the work and may actually detract from it. One of those paintings is Abbott Thayer’s 1886 Still Life, a simple but lush depiction of a peony in a pewter-lined copper bowl. This spare but dramatic still life was in a deteriorating reproduction frame that had a negative affect on the painting.
Last year the work appeared in the exhibition American Art and the East at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. It was seen by Eli Wilner, a leading frame dealer and restorer, who noticed that the frame did not show the painting to its best advantage. Mr. Wilner contacted the IMA and made a proposal to reframe the painting for a minimal payment from the museum. The IMA was being given the opportunity to obtain a museum quality frame that we would not have been able to purchase if Mr. Wilner had not offered to donate most of its cost.
A comparison of Thayer’s still life before and after reframing shows a stunning transformation in the presentation of the painting. It is now surrounded by a frame that resembles those of the period in which it was created and one that brings out the beauty of the image. Mr. Wilner has offered to help the IMA reframe additional paintings with his support, so we are hoping that we will be able to take advantage of this very generous offer in the future.
The next time you are visiting the IMA come to the American galleries and see the Abbott Thayer still life in its new frame and experience what the appropriate frame can do for a painting.