Framing Watercolors: A Way In to the Wilderness of James Everett Stuart

With our little exhibit of watercolors by Robert Tetlow as well as having just launched the new catalog page, Mitered Frames—Special Corners, this week I’m posting examples of watercolors in frames with special corners. One of the frames shown on the new page is on this 10″ x 14″ historical watercolor of Mount Ranier, by James Everett Stuart (1852 – 1941). The simple cove frame is in a 2-5/8″ profile, and has a 1/8″ gilt slip. The painting’s lovely rose-y cast suggested a wood with the warm native tones of cherry. The tracks through the snow are key to the composition and to what makes the painting attractive, because they are the path of another human being in this wild landscape and naturally we want to follow them. Such paintings were, of course, often made to offer the wider world world a view and access—a way in—to the spectacular scenery of the Far West. The tracks make the painting more than that of a mountain; they make it about our relationship to the mountain; it’s the timeless “protection and prospect” principle. Given their significance, then, those simple but suggestive lines provided me a suitable pattern for carving on the frame—something else that takes us into the scene.

Corner detail

The corners interrupt the lines with a simple scallop pattern further accentuating the fine line work of the painting.

Not all watercolors so delicately rendered benefit from being framed close, and some people might opt to mat it. But my feeling was that, subtle though the execution of the picture is, the simple composition and massive subject matter give it the presence of an oil painting and allow the opportunity for the directness and unity that framing close provides—as long as the frame is simple and made in sympathy with the watercolor’s fineness of detail.

Below is a tiny 7″ x 5″ Grace Carpenter Hudson oil painting in a similar, but simpler, frame (without the set of lines near the sight edge). This one is also very delicately rendered. In this case, the fine lines work with the child’s pinstriped dress.

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