Like the setting for a diamond, the frame around a work of art is the finishing touch, the element that completes and elevates a painting, presenting it to the viewer in its best possible light. Framing, however, is an art in and of itself, and just as a good frame choice can greatly enhance the appearance of a work, a poor frame choice can drastically diminish a work.
There are several schools of thought with regard to frame selection—but no hard and fast rules. The preferred thinking is that the work of art, and nothing else, should direct the selection of the frame. Here are some guidelines:
A painting’s style should suggest the frame style. For example, a period painting or one of classical subject matter is well suited to a timeless, traditional, elegant gold-leafed frame or a handsome walnut or mahogany wood frame. Lighter, ethereal, or more abstract paintings may look best in sleek, less fussy frames. And for paintings that are in-between, there are transitional frames—those that blend elements of the traditional and the contemporary. Be aware that each frame has a specific profile, clearly seen when viewing the diagonal cut on a frame sample.
Each work of art is its own universe. When the frame is selected to be of the greatest benefit to the art, the framed piece can be hung anywhere. A contemporary painting hanging in a traditional room doesn’t need to have a traditional frame; nor does a traditional painting in a contemporary room need a contemporary frame. And don’t fall into the trap of choosing a frame to match others you already have; some of the most stunning groupings of paintings feature pieces in a wide variety of frame styles, sizes and finishes.
Larger paintings usually look best with wider moldings and, therefore, larger frames. If, however, going big won’t work for you and your space, a floater frame may help. Floater frames usually add only 1 to 4 inches to the height and width of a large painting, whereas a regular frame of an appropriate size for a large work may add as much as 7 to 12 inches to the overall dimensions.
Depending on the style of the painting, your framer may recommend a multilayered frame composition—one or more frame moldings used together to achieve a unique look, with or without linen liner, plus fillet (image C, below). A frame and its linen liner should never be the same width. There are no rules stating which should be wider—although it’s often the frame.