DESIGN OF THE MONTH Reframing a Louis XVI Portrait
by Norman Ringdahl, CPF – from Picture Framing Magazine, July 2019
One of the things I enjoy most about working in the framing industry is the vast diversity of artwork that comes into my business, The Prints and the Potter Gallery in Worcester, MA, for framing and preservation work. Such is the case for two of our most avid collectors, Tom and Linda, whose collection ranges from historical pieces, watercolors, and drawings to more modern pieces, like a Cubist lithograph by Picasso. The couple recently brought three pieces to us for framing: a tiny watercolor street scene, a graphite drawing landscape, and a miniature eighteenth-century portrait of King Louis XVI of France.
The miniature portrait of King Louis XVI appeared to be a watercolor on ivory or porcelain and was painted in the eighteenth century. The portrait depicts the king in a red coat displaying the Star of the Order of Saint Esprit. The choice of clothing, as well as the commonly painted pose of the subject, suggests this piece was based off a master image—or that the king had several painters working at the same time. These miniature portraits were given as gifts to friends, courtiers, and diplomats who were friendly to the court, among others. An idea of the level of esteem in which the recipient was held can be gleaned by how elaborately mounted the portrait was. The portrait brought in by my clients was likely given to a friend of the court.
The portrait was originally mounted under glass and surrounded by a narrow gold frame. The portrait and gold frame were then mounted to a fabric backing, which was finally fit into a fancy period-carved wood outer frame. The artwork was in excellent condition when my clients brought it in.
The frame came to us in fairly good condition—especially the delicately detailed crown carving at the top. There was a section of missing beading that needed to be replaced and toned to match the original. The corner miters needed some touching up as well. The bigger problem was that the original fabric liner, which was in fair condition given its age, had fallen out of the frame with no apparent method of attachment. A further complication came from the frame having an original wire easel-back attached.
Tom and Linda preferred to keep the painting in original condition, if possible. We decided to fit the original frame with premium glass over the portrait and fabric liner, holding it in place from the front, and conservation rag board from the back.
We encased the entire framed portrait in a shadowbox frame. The frame selected was Larson-Juhl’s Allegra #319712. For the backing and spacers, we used Bainbridge fabric mat #4115 Forest Floor, which almost exactly matched the color of the original liner.
The original framed painting was elevated with cushioned bumpers to provide pressure against the rag board backing and to give enough floated space to prevent excessive pressure against the wire easel-back. This was secured with small screws through the backing and into the back of the original frame.
The frame and backing selected for the shadowbox complemented the painting and original frame without taking anything away from its character, properly preserving and protecting it. Tom and Linda were delighted with the result, and so were we.