Matisse - the frame in focus
In preparation for the new display of the gallery’s French collection, one of our masterworks by Henri Matisse made its way to the conservation workshop. It was not the painting that needed the conservator’s attention, but the frame that surrounds the work.
The work and the frame
This image by Henri Matisse is from 1905 and is a portrait of Madame Matisse, but it is also known by the name ‘The Green Stripe’. The painting is framed in a gilted frame, and on the basis of its ornamentation and stylistic design can be dated back to the New Rococo period.
The frame is oil gilded with gold leaf and has an underlying dark red bolus, which gives a warm glow to the gold. On top of the gilding the edges are painted in broad strokes with gold bronze, which has darkened with time and, therefore, can now be seen clearly. It is possible that Matisse himself painted the frame with gold bronze, since there are other examples of his works where he has 'adapted' the frame's appearance to that of his paintings by painting on them.
The frame structure and damage
The frame is constructed in a very traditional way of its time. When the frame’s ornamented profile was cast in plaster, it was then attached to a core of wood. Before this technique was invented, a carver usually cut-out the frame profile in solid wood, which was more time consuming than the technique of plaster cast. Frames made of solid wood are usually more stable than frames made with of plaster casts. The latter are generally fragile to impact as they can crack and parts of the ornamentation can break off.
The damage to the frame of the portrait of Madame Matisse consisted of a loss of the ornamentation and cracks, increasing the risk of further loss. In the upper left corner a larger piece of the frame profile was missing, as parts of the leaf ornamentation were broken off. This disrupted the experience of both the frame and the painting, and marred the aesthetic expression.
Treatment of the frame consisted of a surface cleaning, consolidation of the cracks and loose parts as well as filling cracks with a mixture of chalk, satin and animal glue. Also, the missing piece of the ornamentation was restored. This was done by taking an imprint of one of the intact corners, and then filling the casting mould with plaster. This new plaster cast was then adapted by hand and polished so that it was identical with the lost part of the ornamentation. The fitted plaster cast was then glued on to the frame with animal glue.
The reconstructed part and other fillings were then retouched with acrylics and watercolour and in order to match the rest of the frame.
The work can be seen in the new, permanent display of French art 1900-1930 from 28 May 2011.
Mette Bech Kokkenborg
Cand.scient.cons - student