Re-framing Virgil Williams

It’s always exciting to see a historic painting come in the door, but especially so when it’s in a conventional gold frame, because I know that the customer, who’s already very proud of his or her treasured work of art, is about to see it dramatically and wonderfully transformed. Once the painting’s freed from the gold frame and placed in a dark wood setting, they will literally see it far better than they ever have before. And if the painting’s of a rustic subject, it’ll no longer suffer from being stuck in a setting that fights with it, but will be enhanced and sustained by the frame.

The painting before re-framing.

This 1884 California farm scene by Virgil Williams (1830-1886) is a perfect example of what I mean. It’s Williams’s own farm on the slopes of Mt St Helena, and the woman in the picture is his wife, Dora, so the piece has some historic significance as well for students of the history of California painting. Virgil Williams, who was born in Maine and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1862, probably never achieved the fame he deserved because he was chiefly devoted to teaching. He may have sacrificed his own artistic career to cultivate the work of others, serving as the first director of the California School of Design, now the the San Francisco Art Institute. In that capacity he helped guide the talents of many notable painters including William Keith, Thomas Hill and Samuel Marsden Brookes.

Virgil Williams, “California Farm Scene,” 1884. Oil on canvas, 10″ x 20″.

The frame, very beautifully and expertly executed by Trevor Davis, is our compound No. 14.153 H CV + Cap 15 CV Stops in hand carved walnut (Medieval stain). It’s a total of 3-1/4″ wide, plus a 1/8″ pale gold slip.

I’ve added the before-and-after shots of this job to the page “Fixing a Very Prevalent Error”. This photo below of the artist on his 50th birthday suggests his own fondness for natural wood frames. We know for a fact that patrons, art dealers and galleries had much more say in framing fashions than artists did. Who knows how many more beautiful dark wood frames we’d have today—and how much better paintings would be seen—if it were left to the artists themselves?

See this Virgil Williams painting, depicting Robert Lewis Stephenson and his wife, in the Portfolio…

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