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How To Safely Navigate The Art Market: Framing

March 1, 2020

Finding an appropriate frame for a work of art is very important. The right frame can greatly enhance the look of your artwork, while the wrong frame can detract from its overall appearance.  Having said that, please keep in mind that framing is a matter of personal taste.  One person may like a more ornate frame while another might prefer a much simpler frame – in the end, there is no real right or wrong.

In general, galleries that deal in historical works will frame their works in the original frame, a period frame, or a reproduction frame done in the style of a period frame. Now I am sure you want to know what the difference is?

Antoine Blanchard - Original Frame

Original Antoine Blanchard Frame

Original frames – those selected by the artist, or his dealer/agent, for the painting when it was first created — in some instances, the artist may have created the frame.  These frame styles can range from very simple to extremely ornate. But what if you do not like the original frame?  Then reframe it; but, I always recommend storing the original in a safe place and when you decide to sell the work, put it back in its original frame – in certain instances, it will add a lot of value to the work.

Ridgway Knight - Period Frame

Period Frame

Period frames – produced during the era when the work was first created and may be similar to, or even the exact frame style, that the artist used to frame his/her work. While this is an excellent option, looking for a period frame is time consuming and when you find the right one it may need to be restored, enlarged, or even cut down … this will add to its cost.  Of course, you may get lucky and find an exact fit that is in perfect condition! The frame illustrated here (left) is a late 19th century frame – a style that was used on other Daniel Ridgway Knight paintings.

Reproduction Frame

Reproduction Frame


Reproduction frames – frames that are made today to look like the old frames.  What is nice about this option is that the frame will be in perfect condition and an exact fit (as long as you measure correctly).  Also, you can choose the finish – from painted, to metal leaf, to gold leaf, and a host of others.

Today, some framer’s websites allow customers to upload images of their works and then place different frames on them so you can see the finished look before you buy.  This takes a lot of the guesswork out of the ‘picture’.

Now you may be wondering: what is the cost to frame a work? That all depends on the type of frame (carved wood, composition, cut and join, resin, etc.) and finish (painted, metal leaf, gold leaf, etc.).  Your local shop may have ready made for $25 to a few hundred, whereas having a reproduction frame may start at several hundred and run into the thousands. From there, period frames will have the greatest range. Prices depend on many factors (condition, period, size, etc.) and start as little as a few hundred dollars all the way into six figures for others.

If you buy a painting from a gallery that deals in historical works of art, the painting should come framed – so there is no additional cost (assuming you like the frame style).  At the higher end of the contemporary art world, many artists choose to have their works unframed — if this is the case, then there is no additional cost (unless you want it framed).  If you are purchasing a work of art from a gallery that specializes in decorative works of art, then the frame might be an ‘extra’. These galleries often have frame samples on hand and will help you choose the one that is right for you.

If it turns out that you need to purchase or restore a frame, finding the right framer is similar to finding the right art dealer or conservator … do some research.  Learn about the different types/styles that are available and most appropriate, then determine which framers offer the widest selection and/or have the best restoration facilities.  If you decide to buy a ‘period’ frame, you need to concern yourself with condition, quality, style, and size – they all factor into the final price.  If you choose to buy a reproduction frame then you will need to find framers that offer the widest choices of styles, finishes, and quality.  Keep in mind that in the reproduction world, the finely carved wood frames, finished in real gold leaf, will probably be the most expensive … while less detailed carved frames with metal or painted finishes will be more affordable; but remember, like most things in life, you get what you pay for.

In the end, as with any work of art you purchase, buy what you like. You are going to live with it and really, who cares what the neighbors think!