In many museum exhibits, people rarely notice the way paintings and other pieces are framed. But the J. Paul Getty Museum opened an unusual exhibit Tuesday in which the French picture frames are the works of art on display. Most frames are chosen to be overlooked and merely complement the pieces they surround, but the craftsmanship of European frames, particularly French frames, is an decorative arts subject unto itself.
The Getty exhibition, entitled Louis Style: French Frames, 1610-1792, highlights the style, exquisite carvings and gilding techniques that characterized French frame making in the period. Taken from the museum’s own robust collection of art from the era, the exhibit highlights frames from five periods in France, under five different leaders: Louis XIII (1630–1643), Louis XIV (1643–1715), the transitional Régence (1715–1723), Louis XV (1723–1774), and Louis XVI (1774–1792).
The first exhibit at the Getty devoted to “frames,” the show features more than 40 of them in a mix of with and without paintings, which offers visitors the opportunity to consider how the art form relates to works displayed within. The looks at French design, the construction and gilding techniques.
France in the 17th and 18th centuries, as a key artistic center of Europe, transformed picture frame styles. The kings were constantly seeking “le dernier cri (roughly the latest thing)“ in all matters of style, including decorative elements like picture frames. Inspired by the Italian baroque movement, Louis XIII’s mother, Marie de Medici, brought many craftsmen from Italy to France during her son’s reign). Their style influenced the French and the French picture frame gained popularity throughout Europe
During this a golden age for frame-making in Paris, the frames, in addition to the paintings, became expressions of artistry, innovation and, given the opulence, wealth. French frames from this period are distinguished by the use of oak, gold leaf, elaborate carved ornamentation and varied finishes. By the time Louis XV became King, artisans were fascinated with the Rococo movement and produced ornate frames that were sophisticated and ornate sculptural pieces. The transition away from the elaborate ornamentation took place during the reign of Louis XVI, when neoclassicism became the rage.
On view at the Getty until Jan. 3, 2016, the art exhibit, Louis Style: French Frames, 1610-1792, is just one devoted to works in the period of Louis XIV. To commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Sun King’s death, the museum organized a series of exhibits. A Kingdom of Images: French Prints in the Age of Louis XIV explored printmaking to promote French culture, government activities and more, and closed Sep. 6, 2015. Louis XIV at the Getty is a special installation of decorative arts during his reign that the museum has collected and will run through July 31, 2016. Lastly, a show focusing on the glittering hand-woven royal wall hangings – Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV – will open Dec. 15, 2015 and is scheduled to remain at the museum until May 1, 2016.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Getty Center: Louis Style: French Frames, 1610–1792
Oliver Brothers Frames: Custom framing styles, French picture frames
Looking at European Frames: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques by D. Gene Karraker
Photo of Louis XIV frame courtesy J. Paul Getty trust