Gitwood frame conservation in progress - the center gilt figurative element was reattached

Photo: Giltwood mirror frame detail during conservation. The gilded mirror frame sustained severe impact damage in transport resulting in disfiguring losses to the elaborate ornamentation. The center gilt figurative element was reattached, and the areas of loss were infilled, levelled and ingilded to integrate with the surrounding original gilding in profile, color, and sheen.

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Not all frames can or should be replaced. Provenance provides conservation and restoration services for period frames as well as contemporary frames. Upon expert examination of a frame, the client is presented with treatment options with respect to the authentic design.

Frame Function

In most general terms, frames protect and visually complement the art that it houses. Original period frames of exceptional design are often considered museum objects in their own right. When displayed with an appropriate painting or work of art, they present the piece in its original historical context furthering the inherent moods, style and a general characteristic of that particular era and even geographic region, or artist movement. Those frames undergo the same protection treatment as other objects on display.

Frame Damage

Frames are susceptible to wear and tear as any other pieces while exposed to environmental conditions, regular handling, installation, transport, and storage. Frames are at particular risk of damage as they frequently serve as the point of handling of the flatwork that they protect. Often, when painting conservation is performed, the frame is also inspected for proper stability and treated accordingly.

The most common condition issues are:

  • Warping of the frame rails from temperature and humidity fluctuation

  • Cracking of wood substrate as solid wood dries and shrinks

  • Separation, delamination, cracking, and flaking of gilded gesso and composite materials covering wooden surfaces

  • Detachment of peripheral ornaments due to mechanical force impact

  • Wear of gilded surfaces from rubbing during routine maintenance

  • Damaged finishes from improper cleaning

  • Veneer delamination and veneer loss in frames veneered with exotic woods

  • Delamination of decorative inlays: mother-of-pearl, bone, metal, etc.

  • Wood substrate deterioration and exit holes caused by insect infestation

  • Hardware failure, or splits and breaks, protruding screws through the face of a frame from improperly installed hardware

  • Weak and unstable joints form impact damage or climate fluctuation

  • Stained and discolored linen liners

  • Impact dents, scratches and abrasion from improper handling

  • Water, fire, or smoke damage exposure

All the damage above can be addressed by specialists and is estimated based on time and materials.

Giltwod antique frame damaged bronze powder paint sprayed over the entire water gilded surface
Removing bronze powder spray from gilded frame

Above: Detail of water gilded frame during cleaning process. The frame was heavily overpainted with a bronze powder coating that obscured ornamentation and gilding that featured variations of matte and high gloss burnish. The frame also suffered from an oily dust accumulation as it was previously displayed in a hall adjacent to a kitchen. After conservation, the painting and frame were placed in the different part of residence with more appropriate environmental conditions.


Conservation of
Ornamental Carved & Gilded Frames

Original carved and gilded frames are often among the most unique and desirable art frames because of their intricate framework. Some frames are carved in wood and directly covered with gold leaf, others have their wooden surface prepared for gilding through application of multiple layers of gesso, while others are adorned with sophisticated details carved directly in gesso or cast in composite material.

When one thinks of gold leaf, they commonly think of 22k or 23k yellow gold leaf. However, not all gold leaf is yellow gold, and through the influence of other metals (copper, palladium and/or silver), the tonality of gold leaf can change, which also changes the karat. White gold leaf is achieved through adding silver, which in turn equates to 12k which is a warm white gold (55% gold, 45% silver), or with the addition of more silver, a 6k, cool white gold (25% gold, 75% silver).

  • Stabilization of the wooden substrate and joinery

  • Cleaning and removal of previous poor touch ups and repairs

  • Removal of discolored bronze paint or radiator paint

  • Reattachment of damaged ornamentation

  • Consolidation of delamination of gesso and gilding

  • Re-carving in wood or recasting damaged ornamentation

  • Infilling areas of loss with gesso

  • Ingilding of filled losses by the application of oil and water gilding

  • Patination and antiquing ingilded surfaces

Giltwood frame before restoration
Giltwood frame after restoration
Damaged gesso and gilding in the area of cracked frame
Rebuilt gesso and restored gilding in the are of cracked frame

Above: Before and after treatment photos of a 19th century frame where large cracks occurred along the joints at the corners, compromising the cast ornamentation and gilt finish. The frame was first surface cleaned. The joints were stabilized and the losses in the gesso were consolidated and infilled. The gesso fills were levelled, ingilded, and patinated.

Damage to gesso and gilt surface
Restored portion of damaged gilded gesso

Above: Before and after photos of a turn-of-the-century gilded age frame that suffered impact damage resulting in loss of the decorative ribbon, berry and floral ornamentation. The frame was first surface cleaned. The joints stabilized, and the surface carefully assessed and consolidated. The ornamentation was referenced elsewhere on the profile, cast, and altered and reoriented to integrate with the pattern. The cast ornamentation was then finished with gesso, a matching clay bole and gilded. Areas of previous damage from improper cleaning was addressed through gilding.

Oil Gilding

Oil gilding is when gold leaf is applied to a completely sealed surface. First an oil size is applied. Sizes are now made of many different materials but most commonly are a boiled linseed oil. The applied oil is allowed to dry (oxidize) in a dust free environment until the proper tackiness is achieved. Then the gold leaf is applied.

Water Gilding

Water gilding is when gold leaf is applied to a porous substrate (typically wood), covered with gesso (usually a mix of calcium carbonate and animal hide glue), covered with bole (a mixture of clay and animal or fish-based glues), and covered with a layer of gold leaf held to the bole by organic animal or fish-based glues. This golden surface can then be left matte or burnished with an agate to a mirror-like sheen. The infilled gilding areas are toned to match the original surrounding finish.

Expert Cleaning of Fragile Gold Surface

Before general cleaning is done, conservator test the surface coatings on small portion of the frame in inconspicuous areas to determine the best materials and techniques for the treatment.

Burnishing white gold leaf infills to match surrounding original burnish patterns. The white gold leaf will be coated with shellac to give the final appearance of yellow gold as in the original design.

Burnishing white gold leaf infills to match surrounding original burnish patterns. The white gold leaf will be coated with shellac to give the final appearance of yellow gold as in the original design.

Evaluating stability of the gilded layer on a frame exposed to water leakage from the ceiling. The gilded coating sustained damage from direct contact with water, which delaminated along the edge of the cove and carved outer edge. This resulted in large areas of loss down to the wooden substrate.

Evaluating stability of the gilded layer on a frame exposed to water leakage from the ceiling. The gilded coating sustained damage from direct contact with water, which delaminated along the edge of the cove and carved outer edge. This resulted in large areas of loss down to the wooden substrate.

Detail of wood carved mirror frame before restoration
Detail of wood carved mirror frame after conservation
Damaged detail of fine wood carved antique frame
Restored fine detail of a wood carved antique frame

Above: Before and after photos of a 19th century carved wood mirror frame that suffered damage to select carved detail and exhibited splits at select seams. The splits were stabilized and then infilled with balsa wood. The missing ornamentation was hand carved and installed to replicate the areas of loss. The frame was surface cleaned. The recreated carvings were toned to integrate with the surrounding areas and a protective coat of wax applied and hand buffed.

Below: Frame details during treatment.

Wood carving performed to restore decorative mirror frame
Carved leaf detail in a decorative antique frame

Conservation of
Veneered Wood and Inlaid Frames

  • Stabilization of the wooden substrate and joinery

  • Cleaning and removal of previous poor touch ups and repairs

  • Stabilizing lifting veneer and infilling with consistent wood species similar in color and grain, and coating to match original sheen

  • Repairing inlays. Frames featuring mother-of-pearl, bone, metal, stone, and other inlays are fully treated by specialists with experience in object conservation.

Veneered frame corner before conservation
Veneered frame corner after conservation

Above: Before and after photos of an early 20th century veneered frame exhibiting veneer delamination, loss of veneer, staining, and discoloration. The lifting veneer was consolidated, the losses were infilled with a wood species similar in color and grain. The finish was conserved and a protective coat of wax was applied and hand buffed to achieve a uniform sheen.


Frame Size Alteration

Antique frames can be altered to accommodate a specific piece. Empty frames can be adjusted to accommodate other appropriate artwork as the collector prefers.

Frame Liner Replacement

New liners can be fabricated to accommodate a piece within an existing frame. If the liner is stained or linen degraded, the compromised fabric can be removed from the wood liner base, and the liner re-wrapped in an appropriate replacement fabric.

Backing & Hardware Replacement

Custom Buildouts

Often times a frame is too shallow to properly house a work and the piece extends out from the back. Custom buildouts can be added to the back of a frame to increase the depth.

Proper Hardware

During the treatment and assembly process, the hardware is always reviewed to ensure that it is secure and stable.

Backing Boards

When having a piece conserved, it is always recommended that a backing board be installed to protect the verso of a piece. For a nominal charge, the backing board provides a significant amount of protection. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

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The treatments applied are specific to the nature of the materials and the condition of each piece and will vary. Oftentimes, it is far more labor intensive to redo a poorly done repair, than to have had properly conserved originally.

If you have any questions about a piece in need of treatment, please feel welcome to contact us at:

312-243-2633
info@provenanceframing.com