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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. 

Framed 18th century portrait of King Louis XVI

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.

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