This section is from the book "Hints On Household Taste In Furniture, Upholstery And Other Details", by Charles L. Eastlake. Also available from Amazon: Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details.
This, however, is a point which the modern and professional decorator will generally dispute. There are of course exceptions to every rule, and let us hope there may be to this one. But as far as my experience goes, I never met with a class of men who were so hopelessly confirmed in artistic error as ordinary decorators. If an upholsterer has not got the sort of table or chair which you want 'in stock,' he will get it made for you. Metal-workers will fashion you a lock or a hinge of any pattern you please. But your decorator is absolutely recognised as an authority, and will have everything his own way, or you had better not have employed him at all. When I look into the windows of a fashionable establishment devoted to decorative art, and see the monstrosities which are daily offered to the public in the name of taste - the fat gilt cupids, the sprawling, half-dressed nymphs, the heavy plaster cornices, and the lifeless types of leaves and flowers which pass for ornament in the nineteenth century - I cannot help thinking how much we might learn from those nations whose art it has long been our custom to despise - from the half-civilised craftsmen of Japan, and the rude barbarians of Feejee.
Picture-frame Mouldings, designed by E. J. Tarver.
It is a practice with many artists of the rising English school to design their own frames for the pictures which they exhibit, and some excellent specimens may now and then be seen on the walls of the Royal Academy, * and at the Old Water-Colour Society's Rooms. Coloured sketches, which are surrounded by a wide margin of white paper, will look well in plain, ungilded oak frames. When, for economy's sake, deal is used, it may be painted, and parcelgilt black frames are often very effective. I have seen some painted white, which I think would be likely to suit engravings. Indeed, both for engravings and photographs, gilt frames seem to be out of place. Wherever paint is used, it should be well flatted, so as not to shine. Decorators, unless directed otherwise, invariably make frames with what is called a 'mitred' joint - that is, a joint which runs across the wood diagonally at each angle. * This is really bad work. The old joiners, who well understood their business, made frames as they made a door, with straight joints properly pinned through. Heavy mouldings, except for a large frame, are to be avoided. Whenever they are introduced, they should slope back from the surface of the picture towards the wall behind, and not forward, so as to throw a shadow on the picture. As a rule, for water-colour drawings of an ordinary size, a plain frame with chamfered edges will be all-sufficient. If enrichment is desired, it is better and less expensive to incise ornament than to leave it in relief, and it will be found more effective to stop the chamfering a few inches short of the end on each side. This will leave an angle block at each corner, forming good points for incised decoration. Within the last few years a new type of light oaken frame, commonly called cruciform, has been introduced, or, perhaps I should say, revived. One is apt to become wearied of a form that is seen everywhere, without the least variety of proportion; and there is a poor, wiry look about the thinnest of the cruciform frames which is unsatisfactory. They are, nevertheless, a great improvement on the cheap 'bead-mouldings' which we occasionally see advertised at so much a foot, 'glass included;' and if artists of note will steadily refuse to adopt the vulgarities of modern decoration, and, taking a few hints from old examples, will get their own designs executed, there may yet be some hope of reform in this direction.
* Those enclosing the pictures of Mr. F. Leighton, R.A. and, I believe, designed by the artist himself, may be mentioned as good examples.
* The examples here given are not intended to be made with a 'mitred' joint, although they have that appearance.
Frames made for engravings can scarcely be too simple in design, and when two or three prints of the same size and general character have to be hung in one room, it is well to group them side by side in one long frame divided into compartments by a light fillet or beading. The accompanying sketch of a frame, by Mr. E. J. Tarver, is arranged on this principle. The best woodcuts of the present day are perhaps the most desirable examples of modern art which can be possessed at a trifling cost. Chromo-litho-graphs are, of course, much more attractive to the public, and are popularly supposed to be a cheap and easy method of. encouraging pictorial taste; but, with a few rare exceptions, they do more harm than good in this respect. In the representation of purely decorative art, where the beauty of design depends chiefly upon grace of outline, and upon association rather than gradation or blending of tints, chromo-lithography may do good service; but in the field of landscape art, for which this invention has been chiefly employed, it is in a two-fold way worse than useless. In the first place it accustoms the eye to easily-rendered and therefore tricky effects of colour, whic falsify rather than illustrate nature. Secondly, it encourages a flimsy style of water-colour painting which no true artist would adopt but with the view of rendering his picture easy to be thus imitated. A draughtsman's handiwork in the delineation of form and in the distribution of light and shade may, indeed, under certain conditions, be reproduced by mechanical means, but the subtle delicacies of colour in good pictorial art are utterly unapproachable in a print which attempts to render, with a few superimposed tints, the dexterity and refinement of manual skill. Original works of art, whether in oil or water-colours, are only within reach of the wealthy. But photographs and good wood-engravings are procurable at a moderate cost, and are far more serviceable than chromo-lithography in the development of household taste.