You Loved It, You Bought It… Now What? Crucial Art Framing & Lighting Decisions

Apr 08, 2016

Whether you are a first-time buyer of fine art or a longtime serious collector, there’s a special thrill when you bring your new “baby” home. But as soon as you do, you’re faced with complicated questions about framing and lighting and concerns about conservation. Take your time and do your research. The choices you make right now will have an impact on the value, preservation, and pleasure of owning a work of art.

Not All Frames are Alike

Frames are both aesthetic and practical. A good frame augments the beauty or drama of a work of art while protecting it from damage caused by light, mold, dust, moisture, pollution and other environmental hazards.

“Frames greatly influence how one perceives art. The most successfully framed works of art are stylistically relevant, well calibrated, and serve the art. In other words, a frame ‘comes second’ to the work it’s enhancing. A good framer should be well versed in the history of framing styles, the grammar of ornament, the study of gilding techniques, and modern materials. A frame makes a grand statement even if barely visible.”

- Elizabeth Goldfeder, Owner GK Framing Group and Pascal Jalabert, GK Senior Frame Designer

Framing decisions are subjective and there are many factors that go into a successful choice—historical accuracy, a color that complements the work of art, the style of the artwork, and the room where you plan to display it. Collectors of contemporary art often opt for the ‘less is more’ approach to framing while vintage works are more likely to be paired with compatible period frames. Some framing experts embrace the décor of a room as a factor while others focus solely on the work of art as a singular artistic expression, with the frame as a supporting player. From the unobtrusive simplicity of an almost invisible frame to the ornate luxury of a gilded and carved confection, the frame style is a critical choice for any art collector.

“Ideally, the frame should amplify the spirit and integrity of the artwork as well as complement the subject matter, the geometry of the composition, the colors of the palette, and the brushwork and impasto. Another important consideration is the environment in which the artwork will live: how it relates to the works around it or to the room in which it will hang. Finally, there is the taste of its owner or custodian, who should be able to enjoy it in his or her setting.”

- Larry Shar, President of Lowy Frame & Restoring Company

In a recent issue of Magazine Antiques, Larry Shar demonstrated the impact of different framing choices on a single painting. Each incarnation has an individual character, illuminating another aspect of the artwork.

Gentle Care & Sunscreen for Your Art

Conservators emphasize the frame’s role in preventing damage and recommend proactive measures that include: the use of acid-free and alkaline buffered (or pH neutral) paper, 100% rag board matting, moisture resistant backings, etc. and that everything be reversible as a long-term measure. Contemporary conservators have spent a great deal of time un-doing the well-intentioned, but ultimately problematic “fixes” of their predecessors. So, good framers use techniques and materials that can be adjusted by future conservators.

UV protective glazing on plexiglass is particularly important as it prevents permanent color changes and fading caused by both sunlight and incandescent light. New—and much-improved materials—that reduce reflections, enhance clarity, resist scratches and created to be used on large contemporary works are changing the framer’s ability to protect your art collection from harmful light.

“Proper framing is a complex issue and my advice is to seek out professional framers of fine art with many years of experience; listen to what they have to say, and if they are smart, you’ll have your painting in a frame that will not harm the painting physically and that will be appealing to you.”

- Larry Shar, Lowy Frame & Restoring Company

Damage Control, Repair & Replace

What happens if the perfect frame isn’t in perfect shape? You love the painting. And you love the way the frame looks with your new acquisition. But you can see that the frame is in need of repair. What you can’t see is if it’s also lacking in its ability to keep mold, moisture, dust, etc. away from the newest addition to your collection. Getting an expert framer to look at the functionality as well as the appearance is a good next step.

Repairing an original antique frame—or even a well-designed replica—is a challenge for a skilled craftsman. Be sure to find a conservator or framer with experience and knowledge in period design, ask if the ornamentation will be cast in plaster or carved, and talk about preservation, and cost estimates. You may find that it’s best to replace rather than repair it.

According to Elizabeth and Pascal of GK Framing Group, the era of generic framing is coming to an end and it is being replaced by a quest for authenticity.

“There is a re-discovery of acquiring unique frames, custom-made to perfectly suit the art case-by-case, from the very simple to the most elaborate. We are also re-framing many artworks that had overly opulent presentations from previous decades and centuries. A strong movement to marry more historically relevant frames with significant period paintings has been underway for many years. A very well noted ‘restorative – aesthetic’ is the removal of gilded French Louis 14 and Louis 15 frames, replacing with an original Dutch cabinet maker frames on 17th and 18th century Flemish and Dutch paintings.”

Cue the Lights!

Proper lighting enhances the experience of living with a work of art, while protecting and preserving it, too. Conservators are particularly interested in circumventing the obvious hazards of too much light and have concrete recommendations for art collectors.

“I generally advise clients not to hang framed artwork where there is a southern exposure of window light, or any direct harsh sunlight from windows or skylights. Windows can also be treated with UV protective film and/or shades. Interior lighting for long-term hangings should be quite low… The best situation is to have artworks on timers or sensors that know when the artwork is being viewed, so that the lights go off automatically after a short period.”

-Elise Yvonne Rousseau, Principal Conservator Textiles, Historic Objects & Decorative Arts, Art Conservation de Rigueur et Anoxia Abatement Solutions

The damage that light can cause paintings, photographs, drawings and other works on paper are well known. So much so that art insurance companies examine the lighting collectors use as part of a general appraisal.

Lighting experts recommend low lighting, UV filters on exterior windows, and careful consideration of what kind of lighting works best for your collection. Typical lighting errors include: locating fittings too close or too far from the work of art; incorrect choice of fitting type or beam spreads (picture lights mounted on frames or halogen lamps located close to the surface of a work of art); or simply over lighting. It’s important to note that the UV filters on windows don’t last forever, maintaining their impressive 99.9% filtration rate for five to ten years. They need to be tested and updated when necessary.

Lighting specialists, Sandra Liotus and Sir David Crampton-Barden, of Sandra Liotus Lighting Design, have worked with many serious private collectors, updating and transforming lighting from a potential cause of irreparable damage to a tool for preservation. They point out that one of the reasons many old masters remain in good condition is because they were never exposed to excessive light.

“Collectors are temporary custodians of the world’s greatest treasures and have a duty to pass them to the next generation in ‘as good or better condition’ from when they acquired them. If they can achieve that, they have been successful, responsible and ethical collectors.”

- Sandra Liotus and Sir David Crampton-Barden

Frame it, light it, hang it and most of all—enjoy your new work of art!

To discover art framers and art lighting firms, visit The Clarion List, the leading directory of art service providers with ratings & reviews: