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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Brown

38. Lambrequins

Reader, I was wrong.

Flowers and Fruit, (detail), personal photo

The corner of Flowers and Fruit's frame does not have a scrolling foliate decoration. The name for this decoration is a fanned lambrequin.

Here's what happened. Careful readers will have observed that I leaned The Frame Blog in unpacking Flowers and Fruit's frame. When I tweeted a link to the post, I tagged @theframeblogmag. I also tagged other online sources I cited: MoMA, the Norton Simon, and the BnF. Why not? Little acorns, mighty oaks. Imagine my surprise when a few hours later I found a lengthy response from The Frame Blog. I wasn't even certain that the site was still being maintained, much less that someone checked the Twitter account. I was wrong--about that, and much else.

My interlocutor at The Frame Blog began by noting how confusing frames can be; "hideous bewilderment" was how she described her feelings when she began her research. (I'm considering a needlepoint design of an antique frame enclosing the phrase.) Since that time, the author of the blog has published books and articles on frames. She is an expert. And it turns out that I misidentified various components of the frame: a leaf-bud center is not, in fact, a leaf with a bud in its center, but a decoration on the center of the frame rail that depicts a leaf-bud. (It's also a phrase that comes up a lot in growing weed.) And the corners are not scrolling foliate; they are "flower-corner, with fanned lambrequins projecting from the frame." She hypothesized that the frames--on the Cézanne Pommes et biscuits that I referenced, and our on own Flowers and Fruit,--both date from the late 1600s. They are not twentieth-century copies of antique frames, but are themselves antiques.

I know now, thanks to my exchange with the author of The Frame Blog, that there are people who study and collect frames. Next month there will be an auction of "antique and collector's frames" in Paris. The Royal Academy (London) lists (and, better, describes) frames in its collections database. The Getty (Los Angeles) hosted an exhibition about French picture frames in 2015-2016; the exhibition text is online. There are a few books on the history of frames: one, published in 1996, is not available online due to copyright. A hard copy is languishing a few miles from my desk, in Stanford's Art and Architecture library to which, in these pandemic times, I do not have access. I've bought the only scholarly guide to European picture frames that I have found for sale. When it comes, and when I've studied it, I may offer you all a new, more accurate description of Flowers and Fruit's frame.

I believe I have mentioned that I did not train as an art historian. I have always suspected that art historians learned a secret language in Wednesday afternoon seminars held in undisclosed locations; my exchange this week with The Frame Blog makes me think I may be right.

What The Frame Blog's author did not correct was my comparison of the Flowers and Fruit and Pommes et biscuits frames. She went into a degree of detail in her note to me that suggests that she would have done--if she disagreed. If she did not see the same similarities. Here they are again:

L: Flowers and Fruit (detail); R: Pommes et biscuits (detail)

I am more confident now that they are nearly twin frames. The Cézanne catalogue raisonné is online. The art dealer Vollard bought Pommes et biscuits from the artist between 1899 and 1904. He sold it in 1906; he bought it back; he sold it again, it went to Hungary; it came back to Paris. Sometime between 1919 and 1931, it passed through the Durand-Ruel gallery. During that long decade, Flowers and Fruit was bought and sold twice in Paris: first in 1923, and again in 1929. If I could find the artisan who made these frames, would I be another step closer to identifying Flowers and Fruit's origins?

I think I might.

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