Saturday, June 27, 2020

Vintage Heart Rabbit: Antique? Painting & Antique? Frame

I will be your night in shining armor, riding across the desert
on a fine Arab charger...
(The Rolling Stones "Emotional Rescue")

I'm a collector of things both old and new, from Skylanders and Sailor Moon to paintings and cameras. Some of the things may have value; some of them I just think look pretty neat.

Recently, I found an old frame at a consignment shop. It was labeled antique, but I'm not really great at dating frames. I look for nice embellishments and molding. This one had two layers of carved molding that I really liked. It was made for a 16"x20" frame. I measured to be sure because some frames are custom made with odd sizes. You can eyeball it, but you might be wrong if it's a custom job. Same with canvases.

This was a pretty good deal. Because it had been in the store for most of the year and overlooked, I got about thirty percent off the asking price. I don't have a photo of the back of the frame itself. All of the different borders are different pieces of wood, and some of them have little gaps you can see if you hold it at a certain angle, kind of like a door on an old house that has been worn down by time and exposed to changes in temperature and humidity.

This is not the only old frame I have. I have several in a stack, some with broken bits, but I love them anyway. Many are for smaller paintings that I don't have to fill them yet. They're waiting for the perfect moment. Just so happened, while I was out last week, I found such a painting.

I almost didn't get it. The asking price was more than I normally spend on a single object. Usually, I start whittling down what I have in my cart and try to pick out only the stuff I like the most because it's too easy to get carried away. Sometimes I pick something up and tell my sister, "Okay, talk me out of this." Sometimes she shakes her head, like, "Keep that one."

The painting was labeled "Antique Painting" and shows a man on an Arabian Stallion. It's a very peaceful painting, and he's carrying what looks like a horn. It looks like there's a story there. It's old. There's no clear signature. It's obviously in rough shape, like the frame I planned to put it in. My gut told me to get it.

The last time I bought a painting, I could tell it was old by looking at the back. The canvas was dark. I was thinking that it might be the color of the fabric used. Maybe it was linen and not canvas. Maybe the gesso or whatever she had used to prepare the canvas had soaked through. But I knew it was old because the paint was flaking off. It wasn't even my favorite color, but it had a few nice qualities about it. So I got it. I put it in my kitchen because it matched that room the best in color and subject matter.

When I flipped this canvas over, I saw another dark canvas. Some places seemed stained or dirty. There were pinpoints of light peeping through. In some places the canvas was worn down.

While I was examining the canvas, I noticed that the stretchers weren't even mitered, and I got a tad excited. When I was in art school, for one project we had to create our own custom canvas. It's not that hard. Basically, you went and bought the stretchers, which are the strips of wood that the canvas wraps around. The stretchers are mitered, meaning they ended in forty-five-degree angles, like a frame or crown molding. There would be innies and outties at the mitered ends where the pieces interlocked. After you put the stretchers together, you laid them on a piece of canvas, which you stretched around it, stapling first one side in the middle and stretching it tight to the opposite side and stapling. Then you did the middle of the other sides. After that you went around it stretching and straightening it until you had a nice taut canvas stapled all the way around. Then you trimmed the excess canvas away and had to prepare it for painting. It's like priming a wall. If you don't prime the wall first, you waste expensive paint because it soaks in and takes more to cover it. Art paint, good art paint, is really expensive. Historically, some were actually made from gems and minerals. (This reminds me of the movie Girl with a Pearl Earring. If you haven't seen it yet, it's a good film about the life of a classical artist. And it stars Colin Firth from somewhere around the Bridget Jones's Diary time.) Still, not all canvases were primed before painting.

That being said, when I saw that the old painting was not mitered, I thought that must mean something. Either it was really old, or we had a do-it-yourself type guy who didn't have access to mitered stretchers. If you'll notice, on the bottom stretcher, at the end, the top half is cut away, about the width of the board itself. For the adjacent side, they did the same thing with the bottom half (or they also did the top and flipped the board over! Genius!!! 🙀). These two parts overlapped and were nailed together.

About this time, I discovered Dr. Lori on YouTube. She's an appraiser of antiques and just full of information. She is basically a one-woman Antiques Road Show and totally awesome! If you have anything collectable, she probably has a video on it. Dr. Lori mentioned several things I had already noticed about my painting on one of her videos.

Then Dr. Lori mentioned staples. Staples usually mean 1955 and onward. My canvas wasn't stapled. It's tacked. She also mentioned that not mitered meant European. Okay, it's getting interesting.

So, here I have an old painting, at least pre-1955, European, and possibly 1800s if the dark wood stretchers and dark canvas are any indication. Exactly how old, I have no idea. At this point, I'm thinking the tag "Antique painting" might have been accurate.

But I decided that my painting and frame belonged together. I was going to paint the frame, but I decided to keep it in its current state. If it is actually antique, I don't want to be responsible for utterly destroying it. Altogether, it may not be worth much since they are both in rough shape, but they are still pretty neat.

(I had originally scheduled the publication of this post for Wednesday, but it looks like the new Blogger post scheduling is not working. It remained in draft mode.)

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