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To De-Frame or Not to De-Frame?

Posted Apr 17, 2014
Written by Abigail Athanasopoulos
Category General

Although we regularly appraise all types of prints, frequently we are not able to view these artworks unframed; this is oftentimes due to the fact that clients do not wish to sacrifice the time and/or money to remove them from their framing (which generally requires outside assistance), particularly if the prints in question are part of a much more extensive appraisal. This can be problematic for a number of reasons. While the subject here is prints, similar issues discussed apply to works on paper (drawings, watercolors, gouaches) when parts of the composition are obscured by framing. 

First, the frame and/or matting can potentially obscure important information affecting value (sometimes significantly). For example, whether or not the margins of a Japanese print have been trimmed is a significant characteristic of value that may mean the difference of tens of thousands of dollars. Condition is paramount to a print’s value and, in addition to potential trimming, the framing can also hide such imperfections as tears, dog-eared corners and fold-wear/other planar distortions.  The mat might also cover or partially cover the paper’s watermark, which, for some types of prints, can give the appraiser valuable clues relating to attribution, origin and date.

The glazing itself, whether it be glass, Plexiglas, or some other material, can further limit the appraiser’s ability to arrive at a credible value conclusion by masking other difficult-to-decipher markings in the block, plate or stone (which can sometimes indicate whether the print is period or of later production). Even the medium, particularly in light of contemporary trends in print-making and the rampant use of various digital processes, can be difficult to determine when viewed through glazing. Additionally, because reproduction is inherent to the print-making medium, the appraiser has to constantly be on guard for “real” vs. “fake,” particularly when valuing prints by such “blue chip” artists as Picasso or Miró; the framing on a print can make it even harder for the appraiser to discern any red flags that might signify that a print is fake.

So, although appraisers can certainly value a print in its frame, caveats apply. It might be prudent of both the appraiser and the collector to take the extra step of having it unframed to make sure that there are no additional characteristics of value to consider. Certainly the relevant level of the market should be considered when making this decision and, if it is decided to remove a print from its frame, steps should be taken to ensure that its removal, handling and re-framing are done to current professional standards.