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Reframing Burne Jones Aurora 1896

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The reproduction frame created by the Queensland Art Gallery's conservation framing studio. | Edward Coley Burne-Jones | England 1833-1898 | Aurora 1896 | Oil on canvas | 178 x 76cm | Purchased 1954 | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

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Edward Coley Burne-Jones's Aurora 1896 in the frame in which it originally entered the Queensland Art Gallery Collection.

Compo being attached to the frieze

Compo being attached to the frieze.

The compo and frieze were oil gilt in 23-carat gold leaf

The compo and frieze were oil gilt in 23-carat gold leaf.

Reframing Edward Coley Burne-Jones's Aurora 1896

Edward Coley Burne-Jones was admired as one of the greatest artists of Victorian Britain. The art critic and novelist Henry James thought Burne-Jones a remarkable colourist, although many of his works of the 1890s displayed a strong tendency for monochrome. Aurora 1896 was first exhibited at the New Gallery, London, in 1896. The background of the work was based on sketches of a canal in Oxford made during a family holiday in 1867.

Why reframe?

Where appropriate, reframing is undertaken to return an art work to its original social and historic context.

A member of the Pre-Raphaelites, Burne-Jones placed particular emphasis on the framing of his paintings. He designed and used three distinctive styles of frames. There is no evidence that Aurora entered the Gallery's Collection in its original frame (see illustration 2). As with many paintings, the original frame had been removed and replaced with a different style. This common practice of reframing art works may be attributed to financial and aesthetic considerations, including denoting ownership or harmonising with a certain interior design.

An appropriate frame

Once the decision was made to reframe Aurora, research into the style of frame Burne-Jones used during this period began. Many galleries, both here and overseas, were contacted for advice and information.

With the assistance of the Head of Frame Conservation at the Tate Gallery in London, the Tabernacle style was selected as that most likely used by the artist for his mythical subjects during the 1890s. Based on Renaissance altar pieces, Burne-Jones's Tabernacle frames consist of a plain sight edge with decorated frieze. The back edge has carved egg and dart moulding with taenia. The top of the frame has a double cornice, and the bottom has a predella. A decision was made not to include the carved egg and dart moulding, and the double cornice and predella, on the reproduction frame. It was thought these elements would overpower the art work.

The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), in Melbourne, also played an important role in the reframing of Aurora. The painting Wheel of Fortune (NGV collection), by Burne-Jones, retains parts of its original frame. It has a compo frieze consisting of a running floral pattern. Using silicon rubber, this frieze pattern from the NGV frame was duplicated to reproduce an exact copy of the compo ornament.

The new frame

The methods employed to make the reproduction frame for Aurora are similar to the techniques used by picture framers for the past 500 years. All elements of the new frame were made in the Gallery's conservation framing workshop.

Queensland white beech (Gmelina fasciculiflora) was the timber used for the sub-frame, which was lap joined for additional strength. White beech was also used for the mouldings on the sight and back edge of the frame. The mouldings were fastened to the sub-frame with glue and nails. The frame then received eight coats of gesso, and was sanded. A red bole was applied to the sanded gesso. The sight and back edge of the frame were then water gilt in 23-carat gold leaf. All the compo was then pressed and cleaned.

The compo was then attached to the frieze. The compo and frieze were oil gilt also in 23-carat gold leaf. The frame was left to dry for a week, then toned and given a patina to simulate age. Finally, the painting was removed from its old frame and fitted into the new one.

Robert Zilli, Conservation Framer
Read more about Edward Coley Burne-Jones's Aurora 1896