Reframing Highlights of The Milwaukee Art Museum’s Layton Collection

In celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s foundational Layton Art Collection, Lowy reframed a selection of the collection’s significant paintings with frames specially chosen for their correlation with the history, provenance and style of the works.

In 1888, Fredrick Layton, a British-born billionaire, inspired by his exposure to and love of art and culture, decided to build an art gallery near Cathedral Square in Milwaukee, becoming the foundation of what would be the Milwaukee Art Museum.  The Layton Art Gallery was one of the first single-patron art galleries in the United States, a landmark for its time.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Homer and his Guide, 1874, oil on canvas (Courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum)
William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Homer and his Guide, 1874, oil on canvas (Courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum)

To underscore the importance of the Layton Collection to the Milwaukee Art Museum, the museum currently features three exhibitions of the history and art of the Layton Collection.  One of these exhibitions entitled Mr. Layton’s Gallery displays a floor-to-ceiling salon-style hanging reminiscent of the original Layton Art Gallery, which includes the seminal painting Homer and His Guide by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

Part of the Layton Art Gallery’s original collection, William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Homer and His Guide carries on the Neoclassical tradition of 19th-century French painting.  Dominating French academic painting in the late 19th-century, Bouguereau often focused on religious or mythological subjects.  In Homer and His Guide, Bouguereau was inspired by Andre Chenier’s poem describing shepherds offering their services after hearing the blind Greek poet Homer praying for a guide.

An 1880s French gilt composition Barbizon-style frame with ogee profile and continuous finely detailed scrolling acanthus leaf ornamentation
An 1880s French gilt composition Barbizon-style frame with ogee profile and continuous finely detailed scrolling acanthus leaf ornamentation (4803)

From Lowy’s collection of over 5000 museum-quality frames, Lowy consultants selected a fine 1880s French gilt composition Barbizon-style frame with ogee profile and continuous finely detailed scrolling acanthus leaf ornamentation that has almost identical ornamentation to the original frame as seen in the archival photographs in the Layton Collection to frame this masterpiece.  The intricate pattern is a typical framing pattern used extensively in France and America during the 1880s.

John Sloan, Big Hat, 1909, oil on canvas (Courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum)
John Sloan, Big Hat, 1909, oil on canvas (Courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum)

Comprised mostly of European art, the Layton Collection also contains some of the most notable American artists such as John Sloan and his 1909 painting Big Hat.  One of the founders of the Ashcan School of American art, Sloan is best known for capturing urban genre scenes and neighborhood life in New York City.

An early 20th-century gilded American cassetta frame of reverse profile with stenciled design on a painted panel by the Newcomb-Macklin Company (6094)
An early 20th-century gilded American cassetta frame of reverse profile with stenciled design on a painted panel by the Newcomb-Macklin Company (6094)

For Sloan’s Big Hat, Lowy selected an early 20th-century gilded American cassetta frame of reverse profile with stenciled design on a painted panel made by the Newcomb-Macklin Company.  With showrooms in New York and Chicago, the Newcomb-Macklin Company was widely known for their beautiful early 20th-century frames.  In addition to the frame’s design being historically and aesthetically correct, the size of the frame fits Big Hat exactly, suggesting the possibility that the frame could be the original frame made for the painting.

Charles Willson Peale, Elizabeth McClure, 1774-75, oil on canvas (Courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum)
Charles Willson Peale, Elizabeth McClure, 1774-75, oil on canvas (Courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum)

Another remarkable American painting in the Layton Collection is Charles Willson Peale’s Elizabeth McClure.  Specializing in portraiture, Peale painted many important historical figures such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in addition to wealthy patrons.

A mid-18th-century English carved and gilded Louis XIV-style frame with continuously carved scrolls and floral sprigs (4746)
A mid-18th-century English carved and gilded Louis XIV-style frame with continuously carved scrolls and floral sprigs (4746)

Lowy framed Charles Willson Peale’s Elizabeth McClure with a mid-18th-century English carved and gilded Louis XIV-style frame with continuously carved scrolls and floral sprigs.  Many successful 18th-century portrait painters such as Peale purchased their frames in England due to the sophistication of English design and craftsmanship.  Seen on other portraits by Peale from this period, this particular frame design was popular in the mid-18th-century in England and France.

George Yewell, Portrait of Frederick Layton (Courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum)
George Yewell, Portrait of Frederick Layton (Courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum)

The last frame provided by Lowy to the Layton Collection surrounds a portrait of Frederick Layton himself.  Framing George Yewell’s regal Portrait of Frederick Layton, Lowy selected an 1880s French gilt composition Barbizon-style frame with ogee profile and continuous acanthus leaf ornamentation to both enhance the portrait, as well as complement the studied artistic tastes of the man whose art collection became what is now known as the Milwaukee Art Museum.

An 1880s French gilt composition Barbizon-style frame with ogee profile and continuous finely detailed scrolling acanthus leaf ornamentation (0050)
An 1880s French gilt composition Barbizon-style frame with ogee profile and continuous finely detailed scrolling acanthus leaf ornamentation (0050)

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

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