frames for paintings in a gallery

Frames for painting, how to choose?

You have 3 main choices to frame a painting:

  1. Floating Frame
  2. Traditional Frame
  3. No frame!

I will tell you the pros and cons of each and add a little insight that I learned while I was working at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Painting frames on gallery wall

I took the picture above recently in my gallery. You can see 4 paintings unframed, 3 with traditional frames and 2 small canvases at the top with floating frames.

I have seen many paintings come and go in my gallery and the frames have had very little importance in regards to appreciation or sales. Most buyers will re-frame the pieces they purchase or prefer no frames. So we often wonder, should we pay the high costs of a solid wood frame, should we choose an inexpensive composite frame for presentation or should we skip frame entirely? There is no easy answer to this question. Sometimes, framing is necessary, for example when the sides need to be hidden.

This is also a very personal choice and factors, such as the artwork itself, the decor or an existing art collection can dictate a style of frame. It is still important to be aware of the pros and cons of each to make sure your art is best protected.

1. Floating frames

floating frame for a painting

Advantages

  • Protect the canvas without covering the edges
  • May fit better in a contemporary decor
  • Are often less expensive because of their simplicity

Disadvantages

  • Generally heavier (therefore costlier for shipping)
  • Will gather dust on the bottom section
  • Will show irregularities in the canvas especially if the canvas is not completely square

2. Traditional frames

traditional painting frame

Advantages

  • Offers the best protection against damage and dust
  • Is often associated with pricier art, so it has a prestige associated with it
  • Comes in more choices

Disadvantages

  • Covers part of the canvas which often results in a change of color under the part covered or worst, damage to the paint layer from friction.
  • Makes the painting larger, heavier and costlier to ship
  • Good quality frames are pricier and do not necessarily add value to the painting

3. No frame!

Advantages

  • Free!!
  • Has a very contemporary feel and fits in most decor
  • Easy to light (no shadow from a frame)

Disadvantages

  • Offers no protection from dust to the canvas
  • Paintings that are moved or manipulated often will quickly show wear around the edges
  • May tend to warp more without a solid frame to stabilize them.

The insight

My best friend at the Museum of Fine Arts was a Frame conservator (still is, my friend and a conservator!). She has to do plaster molds and gilding to restore old frames every day. The conundrum that she faces is the following, the frame has to help enhance the painting but never steal the show. So her beautiful work has to be discrete.

For many now, that means no frame at all, a painting should be able to stand on its own. However, the protection that a frame gives to a painting (against dust, scratches, warping, etc.) should not be neglected.

My advice? Use a floating frame if any of these conditions apply:

  • The painting has chances of being moved around
  • You have small children in the house
  • You may change your idea about the frame later
  • You may want to sell the painting (or donate it)
  • The painting is mounted on a traditional stretcher (not a “Gallery” type which is less prone to warping).

For these situations, a protection is necessary. The floating frame will not cover the painting or rub against the edges like a traditional frame would, which often results in damages to the paint layer or change of color over time.

damage to a painting

If none of these issues are a concern, the decision about the type of frames becomes more a question of personal choice. I would still recommend seeing a professional framer to make sure that the canvas is securely fixed inside the frame. A canvas mounted on a wood stretcher will tend to expand and contract along with the stretcher resulting in abrasion against the frame if the two are not well attached together.

Let me know what your preferences are in your choice of frames!

antique frame with gilding

Published by Eric Vanasse

I started ARTZOK to provide quick and easy one on one email support by top artists/teachers in traditional and digital media. Select a teacher, upload a picture of your work, your teacher will look at your work and reply within 24 hours with tips and advice to help you improve. Simple and free to try!

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