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Frame restoration - interview with a restaurator of Orlovsk art museum Nikolai Begunov

Frame restoration - interview with a restaurator of Orlovsk art museum Nikolai Begunov

Interview made by Elena Suprun with a restaurator of Orlovsk art museum Nikolai Begunov.

Translated From Art Council Journal 2006 2 [48] pages 58-61

Which frames are called antique and what is their value?

- Frame is called antique if its age is more than 50 years. Most valuable frames are those, which were produced before 1917 or made from moulding produced in 1920-s by old samples. Generally, moulding frame will represent the spirit of its time. Most interesting are the frames, which are covered with gold leafs, which have difficult profile. Only masters,artists and artisans can identifily truly value of the frame. Some of those – are unique pieces of art.

What antique frames are made of?

- During frame production was always used high quality wood, which is dried well, stocked with stable temperature and humidity, without any knots and cracks. In regards to type of wood, it was mainly used Pine-tree, more rarely maple, oak-tree, red and black tree, birch and pear-tree. For carved framelinded was most often used.

At which conditions frames come to you? What are the main losses of the frames and what are the reasons?

- Antique frames require restoration, some – more, others –less. Chips, scratches, losses of stucco or render, dislocation of decorative surface, pollution, frame darkening.

All reasons which create frame defects can be divided into 3 groups:

o Aging process and material wear out, as every material item in the material world is living by this rule „ death is coming from its birth”.

o Defects during production and wrong production process

o Wrong storing and unstable temperature, humidity, vibration, increasing content in atmosphere, and other factors.

Last one requires the most efforts and energy.

That‘s why only after complete and comprehensive frame review, indentifying defects and understanding true reasons of their birth, one can select correct way for restoration.

What actions restoration is seeking? What are the steps?

- The main objective of restoration process – keeping originality of the frame for the longest time duration. During restoration of frames, this is achieved with connecting different pieces of restoration object, restoring lost items, removing dirtiness and correcting deformation.

Restoration actions are implemented in specific order:

- Fortification and material conservation

- Removing dirtiness

- Identifying original look of the frame

- Recovering missing part of the frame

These actions require different restoration materials and selection of them is one of the most vital steps in the process. This is because, use of wrong materials and technology, most valuable frames can be irrevitably lost or can be in the state of progressing destruction. For example, currently used domestic glue PVA (polyvinyl acetate) is not suitable for restoration process.

Choise is difficult even for the experienced restorator. First of all, in most cases there are no repeating cases in restoration and each cases method has to be changed. Secondly, choise of materials is not wide, and requirements set to them and sometimes contradictory. Restorator not only needs to have a lot of experiece, but also possess enough knowledge about material properties.

Material has to be chosen based on the process and type of the defect.

Materials can be divided into 2 groups, main materials and supplementary. Main materials used in restoration process, such as adhesives and compositions used to restore lost fragments. Supplementary materials, are materials using those restoration operations: solvents, materials used to remove dirt and others.

The choice of restoration materials, also depends, on which materials were used during frame production, type of defect and degree of safety.

For all restoration materials are applied these supplementary rules:

- Materials used with contact with museum objects need to keep stability of the state for 50 years after restoration. This means connection between initial frame material and restoration materials during natural aging process; at the same time state of restoration material should not change;

- Materials should not distort initial objective of the author, thus change texture, colour tone work of the author and should revertible and enable future restoration

- Material durability should not exceed durability of initial material.


Please, can you provide more detail about restoration practices

- For example, during gilding process into gesso, gesso into wooden basis and strengthening destructive gesso gluten glue is used. In our national (Russian) practice hide glue and sturgeon glue is used. These type of glue has high hydrophilic and high adhesion to different subtrates, which describes its unique stability. For restoration process different substance of gluten glue is used. For example, for glueing 8-10% concentration is used. This solution fastly creates glue seam and doesn‘t go deep into the material. Concetration less than 4% is suitable for strengthening, by restorators so called “disreputable” material of the frame.


- In order to increase mechanical properties and biostability of sturgeon glue, I am putting honey as a softener and catamin AB as antiseptic. Interestingly, chemical content of glutin glue films remains stable for hundred years. Analysing amino acid content of proteins of aged glue, is showing that oxidative processes are not moving.

- Before the work, glue has to warm in the water bath until 28 degrees of celsium and at this stage glue becomes liquid.

- Other materials, wax-resin compositions, are widely used in the national practice, are partially or fully replaced with synthetic materials.

As it is widely known, that most frequent are stucco losses. What are the actions, which help to restore the profile?

- In order to fix it syntetic materials (for example, viksint) come into play. These materials by their properties remind materials used in stomatology and prosthetics. Softened mass is placed on the complete fragment of the frame and after it dries out it is softly removed from the stucco. Into this form plaster is placed or other restoration materials, which I describe in more detail further. Once plaster has replicated the form it is being removed and placed on the working table and this peace is being analysed to identify the missing part of the stucco. Then missing peace is being glued into with the glue described previously, after polishing on the both sides. Hand made revision with scalpel small parts of the stucco and it receives perfect look.

What is the correct way to pick solvents?

Solvents are used on the different stages. Firstly, they act as liquid components during production process of art varnish, working solutions, syntetic restoration materials and wax-resin compositions. Secondly, it helps to remove aging varnish on the frame. All solvents without exception are dangerous to human health. Absence of data about MACM (maximum allowed concentration of the material), doesn‘t mean, that solvents are not dangerous.

Restorator has to keep general health and safety rules: work under hood, imediately dispose used tampons. I am using white spirit, turpentine, pinine and in some cases solvents chlorinated solvents. I am chosing them with 1 main rule – from less powerful solvent to more powerful. In order to remove varnish, bronze paint from the surface of the frame combination of spirit and pinen is used. Very often into this solution is also added water and acetone.

What are the tendencies in restoration sphere?

-At the moment there is a tendency of transitioning from natural materials to syntetic. It is easier to work with syntetic materials and selected operations require less time, which increases the time to restore the frame. In addition, these material are more water resistant. In order to glue gesso into gilded wooden basis, adhesivesacrylic dispersions ( AK-211, ABV-1B, Plextol P550). These synthetic materials can be used for composition of lost elements of the frame.

Please tell us more about the method and instruments of restorator.

In order to succeed in restoration, quality of the instruments is as important as quality of used materials: scalpel, different sizes of spatulas, chisels, brushes – all can not be listed. Rational approach is developed based knowledge and experience.

Every frame has a unique and individual way of restoration process. Restoration process in rare cases can take weeks and in most cases months. Frames of XVIII, XIX, and the beginning of XX century,which were stored in museum stocks and expositions, require detailed and hard work.

It is very important not to have commercial interests during restoration. Increasing the speed of restoration can save time but can give inevitable damage towards the frame. It is important to remember, that veritable restoration needs to keep spirit of that age in colours, patina and other features and should increase feelings towards its age and time. Keeping frames veritability is the key objective. Using these objectives, restoration will give true value towards the art and keep the frame safe for the long time.

Does restorator needs to possess knowledge in the area of art?

Frames are also pieces of art, some of them – masterpieces. Researching history of the item, restorator needs to deeply understand the spirt of that time. Artistic taste in this area is a necessity. Finished item, should have perfect colour scheme and adding too much colour can make frame “screaming” and tasteless. For example, white parts of relief can be carefully toned with acryl. I am putting acrylic paint mixed with water, with thin brush and small touches. Before you can evaluate colour tone, it is important to wait until paint dries out. Chips can be painted with thicker layer of acrylic paint using edge of the putti knife.

What are new trends in guilding?

Taking into account high desire to update the old with uny price and adding to it tinsel gloss, developments in this area increased more careful treatment towards ancient items from the restorators and collectors.

The meaning of gold is associated with eucharist and it means specific colour tones. Honest blood of the christ – sanguineous, grapes – grey-violet colour, body of the Christ – is a lit bread, secondary colour of golden corn – is also grey-violet colour, especially sem. That‘s why near shiness of the gold you expect to see red and grey-violet colours shadows.

Whether it is primining or patina, grey-violet gleam, poliment will add depth of perception. Based on that restorators should not guild moulding with big chunks of gold, ignoring addional colours, elements of blackout and contrast.

It is important to give an example of over guilded palace of versailles. And in order to justify over guildness it was mentioned, that guilding symbolise king of the sun Louis XIV. But as was mentioned by Chesterton, “ sun is not always at its peak”. This means, aesthetics non-moving “dead” gold is not correct, taking into account that its shininess is made worse by electric lights.

Taking into account, that guilding was designed that guilded piece was viewed during day,nigh or candle lights, in other words in real and moving lights. With other colours,shadows, relief of stucco we will feel “ movement” of gold and associations with the fire. In its riddles gold keeps the attributes related to sacred start.

What is the meaning of the frame towards the picture?

Frame islike a clothes for the pieces of art. Depending on the taste of the framer, painting can be in sinergy with the frame or can have a conflict with it. Opposing to previous centuries, when existed artistic directions depending on the time, coutry and fashion, at the moments for the fans of art it is difficult to choose.Working with antique pieces of art, it is very important to possess a lot of knowledge. Some people choosing a frame are only using their own taste and don‘t take into account that piece of art is associated with particular age. Because of that artistic dissonance is created. Well selected moulding can make a picture brighter and add completeness and visual harmony. Professionals are saying, that half of the success of the painting is in the frame. For example, V. Vereshchagin was creating his masterpices for initially ordered frames and payed 5000 rubles in gold for them. These rich and expensive frames were called “Vereshchagins frames”. There are some recommendations related to selection of frames, for example black frames will fit with blue colouring of the painting, white frames with pink and golden frames are universal. But always has to fit with the painting.

What advantages antique moulding over modern serial moulding?

Question is not formulated well, but main advantage is historical aesthetics. Ancient frames have individual profile, colour, thickness of the moulding, colour scheme – all were used to produce these. Serial moulding is partially fullfilling framing question, because it doesnt give individuality of ancient frames.

What advice can you give yo people, who possess ancient frames, which require restoration? Is it recommended for them to do frame restoration or give to professionals?

There is an element of misleading confidence in the good result, which can push art lovers to do restoration independently. If frame has a chance to live, it is better to give to a person who has restoration experience. In most cases, restorationals by non- professional individuals, especially putting bronze varnish, will cause frame harm and innevitable loss of its artistic value. During soviet time many frames were damages in this way.

What do you think about your selected profession?

Work of the restorator is very interesting. Watching how frames are transforrmed, I become very delighted, this helps to keep historical heritage for the future generation, keeping museum exposition at the high level.

It is not hard to learn this craft, but some small points have to tailored over time. Experience, information exchange with colleagues, keeping up to date with progressing trends – all of this helps to fit with missing literature. During selection of this profession, it is important to take into account pshychological aspect, as the work is time consuming and requires high attention to detail. Patience and consistency will very relevant.