Frame of the Week – A classic Whistler-style frame

This week’s featured work is a 19thth century Whistler-style gilt and reeded frame.


19th century American Whistler-style gilt and reeded frame, circa 1890

England was the first country to be transformed by the Industrial Revolution, and it was the first place where artists rebelled against it.  In the early 1900s, woodworking machines replaced artisans, mass-producing cheap, utilitarian frame moldings that could be quickly and easily embellished with composition ornaments.  The carvers who once spent years perfecting their skills became a dying breed.  There seemed to be little appreciation for their craft, and less demand for their expensive, time-consuming work.

The Pre-Raphaelite movement of the 1860s was born in part to protest this trend.  Artists, including Dante Gabriel Rosetti and William Morris, despised the impersonal materialism of the world around them and longed to go back to a time when arts and crafts were made by hand instead of by machine.  They were fascinated by visions of the colorful medieval world – of brave knights and ladies with Rapunzel-like hair – and created special frames to surround the poetic and fanciful images these figures inspired.

James McNeil Whistler (1834 – 1903), an American-born, British-based artist, rebelled against the Victorian fondness for highly ornamented frames, creating a frame style that expressed his personal aesthetic – stark and simple, with alternating panels and rows of reeded lines.   Whistler was a leader in the Aesthetic Movement, promoting “art for art’s sake”.

3402 cornerDetail of featured Whistler-style gilt and reeded frame

Whistler was known to put the image of a small butterfly, a monogram derived from his initials “JW”, on the front of his frames.  When he painted Harmony in Blue and Gold, he went so far as to sign the frame instead of the painting to guarantee that the original frame – the one he selected – would never be removed.

For more information on Lowy’s collection of rare, unique and custom frames, please visit or call 212-861-8585.

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