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What’s in a frame?


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.

Filed under: Art, Conservation

8 Responses to “What’s in a frame?”

  • avatar
    Tyler Green Says:

    Can you show us before-and-after JPEGs?

  • avatar
    Harriet Warkel Says:

    We are working on the before and after shots and will put them on this blog as soon as we have what we need. Thanks for your interest.

  • avatar
    frank Says:

    So, I see 2 pictures. Which is the “correct” (per Wilner) frame for the piece?

  • avatar
    Harriet Warkel Says:

    frank, I am sorry that it is not obvious which frame is the newer one. The change is so dramatic, but the photos must not be producing the striking results that are obvious in reality. It would be much better if you came to the IMA to see the reframed painting, if you want to experience the transformation. The top photo is the old frame and the bottom is the new one.

  • avatar
    carla Says:

    The paint application has a rhythmic dance to it, that is enhanced by the old frame. Sorry, but while the new frame looks nice, the painting is livelier in the old frame.

  • avatar
    Harriet Warkel Says:

    No need to apologize Carla. You are certainly entitled to your opinion. It is the goal of the Museum to put the most appropriate and highest quality frame on its paintings that will not only enhance it but will also reflect the period in which it was painted. Please come to the IMA and see the painting in person, photographs can be deceiving.

  • avatar
    Hawickman Says:

    With the newer frame one sees the picture first. In the orignal frame one tends to see the frame first.
    Nothing wrong with the first frame but isoes take second place for me

  • avatar

    The transformation is really stunning! It seemed the painting had been freshly cleaned, rather than simply being presented in a new frame.
    I certainly believe the correct frame can not only protect the piece, but help the viewer see and feel things they may not have gotten from the art before. As Hawickman indicated, you don’t want to see the frame first and the painting second.
    Congratulations on the generous gift!

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