The history of the SMK collection of frames
The SMK collection of frames consists of frames from The Royal Collection of Paintings and encompasses approximately 7,300 frames. The collection covers a wide range of styles, dates, materials, and countries of origin. Only very little documentation about the frame collection exists today, for no written records of their provenance – information on where and when they were made, who has owned them, etc. – were made through the years. At times this can make it difficult to assess whether a given frame is in fact the frame originally used for the painting, a copy of the original frame, or a later replacement. The stylistic and art historical features of the frame and information on its structure and materials are used to assess whether a given frame and painting originally belonged together.
A number of examples of frames in the collection are featured above and below.
Historical influences on the frame collection
Over time the collection of frames has been affected by a range of historical events such as the Christiansborg Palace fire in 1794. Many frames perished here because numerous paintings were saved by being cut out of their frames, which were left behind to perish in flames. This made it necessary to create new frames for the paintings.
Customised frames for private art collectors
Over the years more frames have been added to the Royal Collection of Paintings as collections belonging to various private art collectors have been bequeathed to the museum. One such collector was Johan Christian Bodendick, whose collection passed over to the king and so is now part of the SMK collections. Bodendick was a royal surgeon to King Frederik VI and a patron of the arts, and for his private collection he had a customised frame profile made, using it for all his paintings. This makes it easy for visitors to identify paintings that originally belonged to his collection, for most of them still feature these unique frames. Other examples of art collectors who used personalised frame profiles for their collections include Count Adam Wilhelm Moltke and the architect Gottlieb Bindesbøll
Over the years, changing fashions within interior design and within how paintings are presented have caused some picture frames to be replaced by new frames – or older versions in order to achieve a more in-period appearance. In the past it was common practice for museums to frame all their paintings in identical frames – known as gallery frames. This was also the case for the SMK collection in the mid-18th century; the prevailing exhibition fashions of the time called for a uniform look in the exhibition rooms, prompting all the frames to be replaced by new, identical frame designs.
A gilder leaves his mark on the frame collection
P. C. Damborg was court gilder to Frederik VI in the 19th century, creating frames for e.g. Christiansborg Palace and the Palace Chapel. As a result the SMK frame collection features many of these Damborg frames.
Damborg made use of the most recent techniques by using pre-cast plaster and metal ornaments. Such ornaments were easier and faster to make than hand-carved wood decoration, which meant that frames could be produced and sold much faster and cheaper than before.
Most of the paintings in the museum collections are framed, but at times – for example when making new acquisitions or when restoring/conserving frames – a decision to replace a frame may be made. Such decisions may be prompted when the frame is in too poor condition, both aesthetically and structurally, to serve its intended purpose. A frame may also be replaced if it does not match the period or style of the painting itself.
Frames may be replaced by an existing old frame or, in certain cases, by a new copy. It can be difficult to find existing older frames in a format that exactly fits specific paintings, but it is often possible to make minor adjustments to such frames, allowing them to be mounted on a “new” painting.
The frames used for paintings can speak volumes about the time it was created – fashions, historical events, ownership records – and frames can often be very helpful in terms of dating the painting, always provided that the frame belongs to the same stylistic/art historical period as the painting itself, and this is not always the case.