Picture framing servicesAbove: a selection of conservation grade frames which our team can offer in a tailored portfolio for your artwork

Upon viewing and assessing an artwork, you may not give much attention to the frame it resides in. Whether the frame is a gilded decorative piece or a simple and modern design, these vessels are important in protecting your artwork as well as displaying them. However, when inappropriate methods and materials are used, artwork may be at high risk of becoming damaged. This type of disturbance is a common issue faced by conservators, most often found upon paper, which can become severely discoloured and brittle by unfriendly surrounding materials. 

Before and after restoration of boat watercolour with acid stainingAbove: a watercolour which has been stained by an acidic backing board, before and after restoration by our team

This article will discuss the ways in which artwork should be properly framed and mounted with an approach that is sensitive to the conservation of the artwork. If you spot any signs of concern that your frame is damaging your artwork, our conservation team is prepared to halt any damage being caused by improper framing, whilst our frame technicians can provide safe options which are appropriate for the artwork and your preferences. 

Frame damage: works on paper

Works on paper can be damaged by their frame for two reasons, firstly the possible acidity of the surrounding mount, tape, frame, backing board, or extra adhesives which may be present, or alternatively and sometimes simultaneously, by an untrained framing method which leaves the paper vulnerable to abrasions, creasing, tears, or sticking to the glass. 

Before and after restoration of boat artworkAbove: a print damaged by an acidic mount and backing board, before and after restoration by our team

Acidic elements in frames may be unknown to you until years after the piece has been displayed. This type of deterioration occurs over a long period of time, becoming progressively worse to the point of decay. You will notice it in a discolouration of the paper, especially in the areas which are touching the materials with a high PH level. This will grow darker, depending on how long it is left in contact with the source. Eventually, the paper may begin to flake and decay under the strain of this contamination. Whilst this type of damage can be stabilised and restored, it is best to remove the paper from the affected frame as soon as possible to avoid worsening levels of damage and a need for further restoration treatments.

Paper ConservatorAbove: our conservator restores damaged paper under a microscopic lens to ensure the fine details are not damaged

Improper framing techniques will be more obvious, such as a paper artwork that has no mount and is sitting against the glass. If the artwork has a sticky surface, such as a painting, pastel, or photograph, it may become entirely adhered to the glass over time. This will lead to catastrophic damage if it is not removed by a professional conservator. Inside the frame, the paper may have been cut or folded to fit in, with edges that are vulnerable to creasing or deterioration. A loose piece may rub against the glass or surrounding mount, which can lead to drastic damage to sensitive material such as pastels or chalks, whilst slowly wearing down other artworks such as a print or painting. 

Before and after restoration of pastel drawing of girl in dressAbove: a pastel piece affected by mould and acidic paper damage before and after restoration

A work on paper should always be mounted with well-fitted glazing, as this will keep the piece safe from environmental contamination, movement, and sticking to the surface. If a work on paper has no glass in its frame, this may also be a concern, as it reduces the level of protection which should be applied to such a sensitive medium. As works on paper will fade in sunlight or bright locations, UV reducing glass is always recommended to enhance its conservation. 

Conservator float washing watercolourAbove: our paper conservator gently washing a work on paper in a tailored solution

Frame damage: oil paintings

Whilst a work on paper is better protected by glass, an oil painting may suffer from improper glazing. Such artworks are inclined to damage from a micro-climate developing between the glass and the painting, leading to mould, moisture penetration, and a disturbed surface. Unless there are specific requirements for glazing and this is put in place by a knowledgeable frame technician, it is best to allow an oil painting to reside without a glass barrier.

Gilded Frame With Painting RestoreAbove: a contaminated and broken frame before and after restoration by our team, who also reunited it with its original artwork

Acidic materials may also affect an oil painting, though less thoroughly than a work on paper as not all of the artwork may touch the surrounding materials. Discolouration may occur to the sides or back of the artwork, depending on the techniques which have been used in its framing. Sometimes these may have been left untouched for decades and centuries, so it is important that a conservator assess these hidden areas for damage. Our team often finds old labels and newspapers which have remained behind stretcher bars for hundreds of years, these can be preserved alongside the artwork during the restoration process, if requested.

Back Stable Frame RestorationAbove: our frames conservator can stabilise antique and contemporary frames to make sure they are safe to hold their artwork

The frame itself may also harbour toxic elements from soot, smoke, dust and debris, which could transfer onto the painting if it is not professionally cleaned. Weak areas may also be in need of repair or stabilisation. A weak frame leaves the painting vulnerable to falling from a height, as well as rubbing against the sides, leading to abrasion and loss of the paint layer. It is important that a frame is properly fitted, leaving no room for movement, whilst not being too tight, as this may cause warping or strain upon the painting. 

Restoring damage caused by frames

Our conservation team are experienced in specialist areas, including easel paintings, works on paper, and frames. When a piece comes for restoration it will be cared for by someone who is in their area of expertise and knows what to look for when examining a piece for disturbances caused by its frame.

Befoe and after cleaning of stained and foxing covered pencil drawing on paperAbove: discoloured paper can be returned to a bright, original colour and be stabilised to avoid further damage from frame acids

Works on paper will be assessed and restored by our ICON accredited paper conservator, who is able to gently remove the frame and mount board with professional techniques, before cleansing the paper of any acidic elements or adhesives which may be lingering upon the surface. This step will also reduce any discolouration caused by the damage. The paper will then be stabilised and lined on Japanese tissue paper, which is conservation appropriate and strong. Any elements such as creasing or folds can also be reduced with weight treatments. 

Using a steamer to remove glue from watercolourAbove: backing card which has been discoloured by acidic contamination from a frame, this is carefully removed by our conservator to stop it getting through to the work on paper

Oil paintings can have various damages restored, including areas of abrasion, discolouration, or warping caused by their frame. If required, the frame itself can then be cleaned and stabilised, ensuring that there are no dangerous materials or contaminants left upon the surface when it reunites with the artwork. If a new frame is preferred, this can also be provided.

Framing OptionsAbove: new backing boards and frames can be added with acid-free and conservation appropriate materials

Our team will create a portfolio of framing options if you choose to have a new frame. These frames will be suitable for your artwork and take into consideration any personal preferences you may have. You will also have the option to choose from various UV protective glazing options which add 70-99% protection. Our technicians will expertly craft your frame and use only neutral materials which are of a museum standard, ensuring the ongoing protection of your artwork into the future. 

Get in touch with our team

If you have any questions or concerns about a frame damaging your artwork, please contact our team for friendly advice and guidance. Read more about our frame restoration service or email us via [email protected] with photographs and dimensions of the artwork for a prompt response.

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