The Cotman Collection | 34

Cotmania. Vol. X. 1934-5

Archive: SDK Sydney Decimus Kitson Archive
Reference Number: SDK/1/2/1/10
Page: 15 verso

  • Description

    Press cutting of an article discussing watercolours and framing by Martin Hardie, Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the V&A museum.

    Article discusses the trends throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century on the framing of watercolours, where the vogue was gold mounts in the 1800's, moving to white or cream mounts in the 1910's. Martin Hardie states it is likely the gold mounts were still popular in the nineteenth century due to picture-dealers selling to the nouveaux riches with the buyer feeling they were getting more for their money with a gold frame, despite Prince Albert advocating white instead of gold mounts.

    Date: 1934-1935

  • Transcription

    {press cutting}
    In the following article the Keeper of the Department of Paintings, Victoria and Albert Museum, completes with a chapter of history the controversy over the mounting of water-colours, on which many letters have been published in "The Times."
    By Martin Hardie
    Collectors of water-colours, picture-dealers, and those of us who "frequent museums, collecting, comparing, compiling, classifying, contradicting" are well aware that the general practice at the end of the eighteenth century was for the artist to enclose his water-colour drawing in a white, cream or greyish mount with a tinted border round the margin of the drawing. This border of lines and delicate washes, in which tones of the drawing were deliberately repeated, served to soften the hard and abrupt edge of the cut mount, to nullify the false notion of looking through a window, and to make drawing and mount a unified flat decoration for a wall.
    To Cozens or Sandby or Girtin the thought of a gilt mount or gold frame shutting in their drawing would have been impossible. But about 1820 water-colour painters considered that their work could vie with oil paintings in size and in strength of colour, and began to set their drawings in heavy gold frames. Writing about the 1823 exhibition of the "old" Water Colour Society, W.H. Pyne speaks of "watercolours, displayed in gorgeous frames, bearing out in effect against a mass of glittering gold, as powerfully as pictures in oil." And in the following year the same writer, speaking of small landscapes by Varley, Fielding, and Cox, adds:-
    It is only of late that such cabinet pictures in this material could be rendered sufficiently rich and deep in tone, to bear out against those broad and superb frames, which seemed alone fitted to the power of oil pictures of the same size: but experiment has proved that water-colours, by the present improved process, have an intensity of depth and splendour of effect which almost raises them to the rivalry with cabinet pictures. (Somerset House Gazette, I., 67, II., 46.)
    A little later the close frame with heavy rococo mouldings and coquillage was falling into disuse; a lighter encasement was employed, and a plain gold slip was introduced between drawing and frame. This afterwards expanded into the broad gilt flat which was in vogue all through the rest of the nineteenth century. One of the reasons for Cattermole's retirement from the "Old" Water Colour Society in 1852 was his objection to the society's rule demanding gold mounts and frames: he always held that his own drawings were seen to better advantage in white mounts. In 1852 also, on the authority of Mr. A.P. Oppe in "Early Victorian England," Prince Albert, when visiting the "New" Water Colour Society's Exhibition, strongly advocated white mounts instead of gold- another instance of the many ways in which, as we now realise, the Prince Consort was well in advance of his time. On the other hand, in 1857 J.F. Lewis, R.A., wrote: "I shall send my picture framed because I hate and detest those horrid white mounts which in my humble opinion reduce all finished drawings to the level of sketches."
    In all this controversy the gold mount and the ornate frame were victorious, and one cannot help thinking that their victory was maintained later by the picture-dealers, who in the prosperous eighties and nineties were supplying the nouveaux riches of the provinces with Birket Fosters, Coxes, and Copley Fieldings in gold mounts and frames calculated to make the recipient feel he had obtained good value for his money as well as a suitable accompaniment to the plush and gilt furniture of his Victorian drawing-room; as indeed he had, for a member of the Royal Water-Colour Society recently told me that up to 1915 he used frequently to pay 10 guineas for his elaborate frame - ten times the average cost of mount and frame to-day. It was not till after 1900 that the tide turned. At the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours the first definite claim by members for the admission of white mounts was made in 1914. Mr. Terrick Williams, R.A., now president, who led the revolt, has told me how fiercely the die-hard conservatives resisted this newfangledness. There was so much opposition that not till 1915 were white mounts allowed, and even then the goats were separated from the sheep and put on a separate wall. Gradually after 1916 they were mixed, and as a result of optical demonstration white or cream mounts won the day; and as to a gold mount now - "we never mention it, its name is never heard."
    The Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours used to insist up to 1915 on gold mounts for the spring exhibitions and to allow white mounts in the winter exhibitions of so-called "sketches." One of the most distinguished members of the society, a Royal Academician still living, used to refuse to submit work at the spring exhibition owing to his intense dislike of a gold mount. In 1915 a rule was passed that gold mounts were no longer essential, and white or cream mounts appeared for the first time at the spring show of 1916. The society still maintains a rule that plush frames are disallowed! The Royal Academy never has had a regulation about gold mounts, though the gold mount was de rigueur till about 1915, when white and cream mounts gradually began to get past the Hanging Committee.

Press cutting of an article discussing watercolours and framing by Martin Hardie, Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the V&A museum.