The Empire Style

Reflecting the aesthetic and political aspirations of France under Napoleon’s leadership, the Empire style combines subtle textures with opulent patterns. As in the frame below, which juxtaposes leaf motif, front bead, and flat panel, objects during this period cultivated elegance in contrasts and employed unique visual strategies within alternating regions.

19th-century French Empire continuous cove frame with leaf ornament, front bead divider and flat interior panel
19th-century French Empire continuous cove frame with leaf ornament, front bead divider and flat interior panel
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19th-century French Empire continuous cove frame with anthemium leaf pattern outside continuous stylized leaf motif with plain hollow divider and lambs tongue interior

Designs drew heavily for inspiration on symbols and ornaments borrowed from the ancient Greek and Roman empires.  Though originating in France, the style quickly spread throughout Europe.

Swedish Empire frame with reeded columns, carved portrait and reed and rosette ornaments
Swedish Empire frame with reeded columns, carved portrait and reed and rosette ornaments

The style took particular root in Imperial Russia, where it was used to celebrate the victory over Napoleon, and influenced numerous designers, and craftsmen of the day, as is evidenced in many of the objects being sold at auction next month during Christie’s and Sotheby’s Russian sales.  Hailing from both Russia and other countries, the objects that make up the Russian collections exemplify the desire to combine disparate elements, eliciting new forms of concord.

Fabergé Mantel Clock, Moscow, 1899-1908 (image courtesy of Christie’s)
Fabergé Mantel Clock, Moscow, 1899-1908 (image courtesy of Christie’s)
Baron Gérard’s portrait of Madame Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, later Princesse de Bénévent, painted in 1908, reflects the Empire style with the use of objects in the painting (image courtesy of metmuseum.org)
Baron Gérard’s portrait of Madame Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, later Princesse de Bénévent, painted in 1908, reflects the Empire style with the use of objects in the painting (image courtesy of metmuseum.org)
Russian Gold and Diamond-Set Presentation Snuff Box probably by Jacob Grauwinkel, St. Petersburg, 1847 (image courtesy of Sotheby’s)
Russian Gold and Diamond-Set Presentation Snuff Box probably by Jacob Grauwinkel, St. Petersburg, 1847 (image courtesy of Sotheby’s)

Lowy has one of the most comprehensive collections of French Empire frames in the world. For more information on Lowy’s collection of 5,000 antique frames, visit www.lowyonline.com or call 212-861-8585.

Featured Frame of the Week

This week’s featured frame is an American gilt composition frame with continuous Moorish decorative motif in the panel, and leaf-and-berry top ornament running from the corners to the centers.

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This frame reflects the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement, which grew out of frustration with unoriginal, mass-produced decorative objects. With such ornate detailing, frames like this work very well on American paintings from the second half of the 19th century. Hudson River Artists, such as Frederic Edwin Church, fit particularly well.

Frederic Edwin Church, The River of Light (image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art)
Frederic Edwin Church, The River of Light (image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art)

For more information on Lowy’s collection of more than 5,000 antique frames, please visit www.lowyonline.com or call 212-861-8585.

Bumpei Usui and his Frames

Bumpei Usui (1898-1994), like his more famous close friend Yasuo Kuniyoshi, was a Japanese-American framer and artist active during the first half of the 20th century. Usui started making frames and furniture when he arrived in New York City from Japan, opening a frame shop at 5 East 14th Street that became popular with Kuniyoshi and other contemporary artists.

Reacting against the heavy composition frames of the 19th century and the more ornate pieces of the very early 20th century, Usui was among the artists who favored simple, rustic frames that complimented the new modern style. These were often made by artists, including Frederick Harer, Bernard Badura, Max Kuehne, Charles Prendergast and Eugene Ludins, or in intimate frame shops. For a time Usui worked alongside Doris Lee and Milton Avery, who designed their own frames as well, at the Woodstock Art Colony.

Mid-20th century American carved and silver leafed frame with continuous gadroon ornament by Bumpei Usui
Mid-20th century American carved and silver leafed frame with continuous gadroon ornament by Bumpei Usui

Like many American artists, Bumpei Usui looked to European examples for inspiration. Notably, the above frame resembles a 17th-century Sienese carved and gilt frame (also in the Lowy inventory), which suggests that Usui was inspired by earlier Italian designs. Usui interpreted the Sienese gadrooned ornament in a considerably looser and more expressive fashion that conveys movement and fluidity in a particularly bold manner.

17th-century Sienese frame with front bead and continuous gadroon ornament along outer edge
17th-century Sienese frame with front bead and continuous gadroon ornament along outer edge

Usui became active as a painter as well, exhibiting with artists including Man Ray, Thomas Hart Benton, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth and Robert Henri at both museums and galleries. He may also have created frames for these artists, his peers. However, because Usui devoted so much time to his framing business, he never achieved the success in painting that he might have. In recent years, there has been renewed interest in his paintings.

Bumpei Usui, The Furniture Factory, Oil on Canvas (image courtesy of 511 Gallery)
Bumpei Usui, The Furniture Factory, Oil on Canvas (image courtesy of 511 Gallery)

Frames during Bumpei Usui’s era were often made with new materials and techniques to reflect the more modern, naive style of the art that was being made. For example, silver leaf was frequently used instead of gold, which was seen as more formal. New surface textures were created, and the carving was often notched or chiseled in a cruder and more rustic manner than on earlier frames. Frame makers also experimented with different types of woods, sometimes leaving them unfinished or creating special painted finishes to complement a particular painting. Patinas employing gray casein were brought in to make the silver or gold appear more provincial. In the below image, you can see the effect of silver leaf over red clay in the Bumpei Usui frame from Lowy’s collection.

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Bumpei Usui's signature

For more information on Bumpei Usui frames, or our collection of more than 5,000 antique frames, please visit www.lowyonline.com or call 212-861-8585.

Featured Frame of the Week

This week’s featured frame is an extremely rare piece designed by Childe Hassam (1859-1935), the American Impressionist painter. The distinguishing features of this frame are its basketweave-patterned corners, rippled panels, and reeded slight edge.

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Hassam was very involved in the framing of his works and tried a wide variety of styles throughout his career. However, he preferred a flat style, such as that of the frame shown above. This was also the style favored by James McNeil Whistler, who he admired, although Hassam did not adopt Whistler’s use of a signature mark. Instead, Hassam is the only American artist known to have incorporated his initials in the design of his frames. In the above example, “CH” is carved into the centers of the outer frame edges.

This frame and the one below were made for Hassam by several frame makers including Albert Milch and the Royal Art Framing Company. They were used selectively by the artist for the rest of his life. The example shown below displays the subtle detail and elegance of his unique style in both frame design and painting.

Childe Hassam, The Flower Seller, oil on board, in a carved giltwood frame made by Carrig-Rohane in the early 20th century
Childe Hassam, The Flower Seller, oil on board, in a carved giltwood frame made by Carrig-Rohane in the early 20th century

For more information about Hassam frames or any other frames in Lowy’s inventory, please call 212-261-8585 or visit www.lowyonline.com.

Punchwork

During the Italian Renaissance, frame makers created a number of techniques that today exemplify the periods love for ornamentation. One such technique is punchwork.

Biago d’Antonio’s Scenes from the Story of the Argonauts showcases the lavish decorative strategies employed by Renaissance artists and craftsmen (image courtesy of metmuseum.org)
Biago d’Antonio’s Scenes from the Story of the Argonauts showcases the lavish decorative strategies employed by Renaissance artists and craftsmen (image courtesy of metmuseum.org)

Often applied in a decorative pattern, punchwork appears in panels, corners, and embellishments to create texture and dramatize the effect of gold as well as the wood’s carved pattern. European framers may know punchwork by the name “Bulinatura,” which is Italian for “engraving.” Our recent gilding video briefly showed the process, but if you missed it, a short refresher is below.

In Lowy’s frame collection, punchwork abounds. Patterns in scrolling and floral designs appear on small and large frames alike. The technique is seen covering small sections, or it is used to produce lines that wrap and wind around the gilt surface. Set amidst carved embellishments, such textured patterns on flat surfaces serve both practical and aesthetic functions.

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Though developed in the 16th and 17th centuries, punchwork and other surface effects saw renewed interest during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, after the introduction of compo frames. With composition, frame makers faced complaints about the harsh effect of gilt plaster and had to look for ways to soften the glare. Techniques that produce texture, including punchwork, served this purpose by dulling certain areas in decorative ways. Often, these forms of modern punchwork articulate texture more dramatically than the Renaissance predecessors, re-imagining the effect as dotted fields of opulent, shimmering gold.L1456

For more information about punchwork and Lowy’s collection of 5,000 antique frames, please call 212-861-8585 or visit www.lowyonline.com.

L7616 copy

Featured Frame of the Week

This week’s featured frame is a Régence carved giltwood frame purchased during one of Larry’s first buying excursions in Paris during 1980. While considering the purchase at the famed Paris flea market, Marché aux Puces, Larry was initially deterred by the vendor’s requirement that the purchase include the painting enclosed within: A curious, uninspired Swedish portrait. But after seeing Faye Dunaway examining the same pair of art objects, Mr. Shar decided to take the plunge.

18th-century Régence carved and gilt frame with elaborate pierced corner and center cartouches, rosette demi-centers on finely crosshatched panels and foliate slight edge
18th-century Régence carved and gilt frame with elaborate pierced corner and center cartouches, rosette demi-centers on finely crosshatched panels and foliate slight edge

A frame such as this, with its strong directional focus on the center of the picture plane, serves best for a painterly yet refined portrait that contrasts the frame’s delicate, florid structure. The below painting by John Singer Sargent is a fine example.

John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Charlotte Cram, 1900
John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Charlotte Cram, 1900

To learn more about the stories behind Lowy’s collection of over 5,000 antique frames, please call 212-861-8585 or visit www.lowyonline.com .

Charles Prendergast and his Frames

Charles Prendergast (1863-1948) was known as a painter, a highly successful frame maker, and a furniture maker. The brother of Maurice, Charles started making frames for himself, his brother, and his artist friends to save money and complement the ideas expressed in the artworks. Eventually, his frames became more celebrated than his paintings, and his style developed into a pioneering force behind the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century.

With the frame maker Herman Dudley Murphy, Charles founded the Carrig-Rohane frame shop in Boston, which was widely known for creating unique, sought-after pieces. Many of  Prendergast’s highly original frames were displayed with the groundbreaking works displayed at the original Armory Show in 1913. Ultimately, the artist produced around 400 frames and over 100 other works throughout his lifetime.

A rare carved and gilt frame by Charles Prendergast with ogee profile and intermittently spaced floral carvings alternating with plain burnished “mirror” panels in the Venetian style, with punchwork around the floral carvings
A rare carved and gilt frame by Charles Prendergast with ogee profile and intermittently spaced floral carvings alternating with plain burnished “mirror” panels in the Venetian style, with punchwork around the floral carvings

Like the painters of his time, in his frames Charles Prendergast reconsidered the natural qualities of gold as a medium, showcasing the natural lustre of gold through a restrained brilliance and terse, balletic design elements. We can also see the artist’s lively and eclectic use of pattern at work in his the painting below.

Charles Prendergast, Central Park, 1939 (image courtesy of www.barnesfoundation.org)
Charles Prendergast, Central Park, 1939 (image courtesy of http://www.barnesfoundation.org)

Although he was based in Boston and New York, Prendergast’s style nonetheless reflects the influence of global art trends. The artist traveled to Italy in 1898 and became strongly influenced by the Venetian style. Like the classic “Canaletto” frame pictured below, many of Prendergast’s frames used an ogee profile with intermittently spaced floral motifs. However, in his frames Prendergast swapped the order between floral motif and flat panel, effectively moving the decorative corners to a formerly unembellished region of the frame. This unique layout is a hallmark of the artist’s work.

18th-century Venetian carved, gilt and polychrome frame
18th-century Venetian carved, gilt and polychrome frame

Interested in Prendergast frames? For more information on this or any of the other 5,000 antique frames we have available, please call 212-861-8585 or visit www.lowyonline.com.