During my summer travels in the Netherlands I visited the Kröller Müller Museum in De Hoge Veluwe national park. Renowned for their many extraordinary paintings by Van Gogh, I was delighted to see the framing treatments on many of the Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings in the collection.
Three Cubist artworks clearly demonstrate how effectively a painted frame can showcase a composition. The George Valmier (1885-1937) ‘Geometric Still Life 1” of 1919 is framed in a simple profile: a primary outer portion that slopes back toward the wall at a 45˚ degree angle, painted a medium grey with the sight edge of the frame another 45˚ angle painted in white. The grey is carefully keyed to match areas of the canvas painted in the same tone and the white inner edge of the frame sets off the black edge that Valmier painted around the entire perimeter. The choice of color and the clean angles of the profile harmonize and support, rather than constrain, the vitality of the composition.
On Gino Severini’s “Still Life With A Guitar” also dated 1919 another angular profile in white and pale grey surrounds the painting. At first glance the profile is a simple raised inner flat in grey at the sight edge surrounded by a wide, flat panel in white. A closer look, however, shows that the inner grey flat has an additional small step where it meets the white panel, and the outermost side edge of the wide white panel has also been painted in the same grey as sight edge. These subtle and sophisticated touches create a fascinating dialog of steps and planes with the artwork.
A third example on “Playing Cards and Siphon” of 1916 by Juan Gris (1887-1927) demonstrates the power of a color scheme that speaks directly to the image. The profile slopes in toward the canvas: the top-most outer edge in black gives way to the primary center panel in grey, followed by an inner liner at the sight edge that is painted the same deep ochre of the table. The transition from the grey panel to the ochre liner is bridged by a narrow band of dark grey-black and adds to the sense of contrast in Gris’ dramatic composition while the matte quality of the frame surface further supports the lush darkness of the composition.
All three are excellent examples of how a sensitively painted surround can be an effective alternative to a gilded or natural wood surface.