Mind’s Eye from a Different Frame of Reference

You still have time to come to the Dallas Museum of Art to visit the exhibition Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne before it closes on October 26. The show is a rare opportunity to see exceptional drawings, pastels, and watercolors by many of the most acclaimed European artists in the Museum’s collection, as well as some from many local private collections.  Linger in a gallery and closely study exquisite works by Renoir, Gérôme, Pissarro, Bonnard, and Mondrian. Then, before moving into the next room, step back a bit to view the broad array of frames that surround these fabulous artworks. The various shapes, designs, and colors add a pleasant texture to the walls and bring an unmatched intimacy to the overall experience.

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Consider the fantastic tabernacle frame surrounding Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret’s little gem Portrait of Gustave Courtois. With its liner plinth (or base), columns topped with Corinthian capitals, and crowning entablature, it’s easy to see that this sort of frame employs a structure and ornamentation inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The intricate gold ornamental foliage patterns coursing over the narrow, flat groves of dark green couple with rich gilding to elevate the mystery of the distinguished sitter, who was a fellow artist.

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Nearby is Théodule Ribot’s Head of an Old Man with Beard and Cap. This little drawing from the DMA’s collection was in storage unframed, but we did not need to go any further than our own Reves Collection to find something perfect. Based on 17th-century Dutch frames with waffle or ripple style moldings that were darkly painted to simulate ebony, this frame is enhanced throughout by long passages of inlaid tortoise shell. Then, to bring perfect harmony to drawing and frame, we added a custom-designed mat embellished with strands of pale blue, silver, and brown marbling that echoes the frame’s tortoiseshell.
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Like museums, artists were often quite particular about their frames. For example, Edgar Degas most likely designed the frame on his drawing After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself. This frame has the hallmarks of his most inventive design, which includes a soft overall gilding over a lightly rounded profile, enhanced with rows of thin parallel grooves. Degas called this frame a “cockscomb” or “cushion” pattern. The frames’ characteristic gentle curves subtly reinforce the arc in the nude’s back, as well as the fleshiness of her torso, buttocks, and arms.

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Even simpler than Degas’s frame is the one that Swiss artist Ernest Biéler designed for his L’épine-vinette. He polished the wood (oak) to bring out its subtle grain, allowing it to serve as a backdrop to the small strips of wood that step down at the sight edge, drawing our eyes toward the lovely portrait. Biéler followed a similar design scheme when made the frame for his Self-Portrait, which hangs to the left. Thus we see both of these works just as he intended.
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In the last room of the exhibition, you will find a fantastic frame on Pablo Picasso’s Still Life with Glass and Bowl. Although probably not designed by Picasso, its strong linear features and curvilinear gold leaf embellishments mirror those same aspects in the master’s drawing.

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If you are not ready to explore the rest of the Museum, return to the first Mind’s Eye gallery for a look at the one-of-a-kind mat surrounding Hubert Robert’s View of the Gardens at the Villa Mattei. The cartouche bearing the artist’s name is a work of art itself.

Martha MacLeod is the Curatorial Administrative Assistant for the European and American Art Department at the DMA.


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