Featured Frame of the Week

This week’s featured frame is an Arts & Crafts frame from 1905 made by Charles Prendergast.  Not only was this American an artist and frame maker, but he was also a skilled craftsman, carver and gilder.

The frame was made during the Arts and Crafts movement in America, when artists and frame makers began to value craftsmanship and design over mass production and heavy ornamentation.  Frames were once again being hand-carved and crafted as they had been in the 17th and 18th centuries, instead of factory-made and cast in plaster as was the custom in the 19th century.  Prendergast was one of the first to return to hand-carving.

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Antique Arts & Crafts frame by Charles Prendergast, 1905

On the verso, the frame is signed and dated “Prendergast 1905”.  Like other early 20th century American frame makers, Prendergast felt his frames were works of art in themselves worthy of being signed.

Prendergast began making frames as early as 1895 at the age of 32 and joined his friend Hermann Dudley Murphy, another artist-frame maker, in forming the Carrig-Rohane frame shop in Winchester, Massachusetts, in 1903.  They moved the shop to Boston in 1905 where they were joined by the woodcarver, Walfred Thulin.  The extent of Prendergast’s involvement in the shop is not clear, but this frame may have been made there.

Prendergast traveled to Italy in 1898 and was greatly influenced by what he saw there; he especially loved Venice.  This frame resembles a classic Venetian carved frame with an ogee profile dating from the early 18th century sometimes referred to as a “Canaletto” frame.  It features intermittently spaced floral carvings alternating with plain burnished “mirror” panels.  Prendergast also uses the Italian technique of punchwork, or bulinatura, around the floral carvings, and an Italianate foliate front ornament.  Hermann Dudley Murphy used this frame style as well and was also influenced in many of his designs by Italian techniques and ornamentation.

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Detail of the frame by Prendergast

Interestingly, the major ornamentation of this frame design is located in the panels; the corners as well as two of the centers are left plain burnished gold.  This is in contrast to how frames were usually designed in 18th century Italy, when the most decorative part of the ornamentation was nearly always placed in the corners and centers.  The ornament on the outside edge of the frame is also a modern sort of squiggle carving instead of a more classic gadroon or lamb’s tongue.  These changes are characteristic of the quirkiness and naïveté expressed in the frames of Prendergast and his contemporaries, and are part of what makes the frame especially unique.

The frame was executed in a simple, clean style and finished with a brightly burnished gold.  This is in contrast with many other frames designed by Prendergast which are either more roughly carved with a receding profile in the Spanish style or featuring incised designs and a more muted or rubbed finish on a cassetta profile.  The style of this frame has more in common with the frames of Thulin and Murphy made at this time than with many of the frames designed by Prendergast.  However, with its refined and beautifully executed design, it is in keeping with the ideas of the artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

For more information on our Prendergast frames and any of the 5000 frames in Lowy’s collection, please visit www.lowyonline.com or call 212-861-8585.

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