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Past Exhibitions

Beaux Arts & Crafts: Masterpieces of American Frame Design 1890 – 1920

September 25–November 27, 2011

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'Frame, tabernacle style' by Stanford White

Stanford White, Frame, tabernacle style, n.d.,
gold leaf, bole, and gesso on hand-carved wood,
collection of Edgar O. Smith

The High Museum of Art is hosting Beaux Arts & Crafts: Masterpieces of American Frame Design 1890–1920, on loan from the noted New York frame collector Edgar O. Smith. This exhibition brings together 15 frames by American makers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries―a golden era for innovations in frame design in the United States. Works of art in their own right, this selection of frames from the Arts and Crafts and Beaux Art periods perfectly embodies the spirit of turn-of-the-century aesthetic in America by celebrating hand-crafted, elegant and useful design. Frame designers and makers represented include Stanford White, Charles and Maurice Prendergast, Max Kuehne, E. I. Couse, Frederick Harer, Foster Brothers, Newcomb-Macklin, Walfred Thulin, Hermann Dudley Murphy and Carrig-Rohane.

The exhibition showcases the care and attention American artists had begun to give to their frames by the late 1880s. The renaissance of the American frame gained momentum at the turn of the twentieth century, when the luxuriously ornamented, grand, classical and academic Beaux Arts aesthetic overlapped with the more straightforward, reformist and hands-on Arts and Crafts style. Artists wanted frames that were individually crafted for each work of art and both approaches to frame design were embraced. In frame-making this meant new interpretations of traditional handcraftsmanship and centuries-old motifs.

Careful attention was paid to both frame construction—made by hand, not machine—and surface treatment, such as variations in gold tonality, patina and colors chosen to complement an artist’s palette. The fluent eclecticism of Beaux Arts and the reductionist ornament of Arts and Crafts both freely incorporated a number of historical influences, resulting in truly original frames that were unique and modern for their time. During this golden age, frame design and manufacture garnered the attention of tastemakers, artists, collectors and craftsmen. The frame gained prestige and importance, and careful consideration of how a frame would integrate with a work of art became paramount. Many artisans signed and dated their hand-carved and -gilded frames as a testament to the artistry of their creation.

Beaux Arts & Crafts: Masterpieces of American Frame Design 1890–1920 is organized by Gill & Lagodich Fine Period Frames, New York, and is on view at the High through the generous support of Edgar O. Smith. A 52-page, four-color exhibition catalogue written by Tracy Gill (with an additional essay by Virginia Couse Leavitt) explores the linkage of these frames with American artists, dealers and collectors, connecting them to original paintings or specific frame designs used on the works of specific artists. Artists represented in the catalogue include Frank W. Benson, Frederick S. Church, Abbott H. Thayer, E. I. Couse, William McGregor Paxton, Dwight Tryon, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Joseph Davol, G. Ruger Donoho, Max Kuehne and Daniel Garber.