Picture Framing: A Short History of Framed Pictures

There is now a steady stream of framed pictures leaving our Christchurch gallery, the most popular being Mickey to Tiki in the black box frame (the example shown here at right is hanging on the wall of our gallery today). Since NZ Fine Prints started offering picture framing on all prints in stock we have already delivered ready framed just over 10% of the print titles that we carry. This means that we are getting a better idea of the cost of framing each print, which are the most popular prints (so we can make sure we keep these on hand) and also which colour frames are the most popular (the favourite frame colour is black because this goes with nearly all interior designs).  Picture framing outside of the pictures listed as being in stock in our framed prints collection is done to order.  Finding out more about your framing options and the cost of framing your prints is easy - just call us on NZ freecall 0800 800 ART.

Seeing all this picture framing going on has made us curious to know more about out the origins of the practice of framing pictures.  Back a couple of decades NZ Fine Prints was part owner of one of NZ's largest picture moulding manufacturers so we have been able to delve into our own company archives to literally dust off some books on the aesthetics and mechanics of picture framing in our quest to find out more about the history of framed prints (and along the way have seen a lot of changing picture framing fashions as well!).

The history of framed pictures went back a lot further than we expected. The fashion of having moveable art pictures in our homes and offices is not new, it goes back many generations. The story of the use of domestic (or vernacular) pictures has its orgins just over three hundred years ago when just over a third of "tradesmen" (i.e. semi-skilled workers) in Britain already had pictures on their walls (our source for many of these fascinating statistics is Lorna Weatherill, Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain 1660-1760).

Before the Renaissance the movable panel-painting was the exception and the painter's craft ranged over a wide variety of surfaces integrating the work full with its public and the buildings in which these skills were employed. Over door and over mantel pictures were about the last examples of pictorial art to be united inseparably with their architectural setting.

The dominance of moveable pictures, (ie "easel painting") must be seen as a product of the Renaissance for by the late seventeenth century moveable pictures, paintings and prints were to be found in many interiors. The popularity of maps, usually shown hanging between rollers, can be seen as heralding the decline of limning (the use of solid gouache) and the rise of translucent watercolour which would not obliterate the printed line. The burgeoning use of moveable pictures of all kinds is particularly evident between about 1675 and 1725. In that half century some 35 percent of tradesmen owned pictures although only 4 percent of yeoman farmers did. This could point to an urban/rural divide contingent upon the cash economies of towns in contrast to the persistent barter in the country.These earliest picture frames were usually made by the artist - picture framing as a separate profession did not yet exist.

Early picture frames followed architectural practice and included a cill, as in a window, with the familiar mason's mitre. The general introduction to easel paintings by the early seventeenth century promoted the development of the picture frame as an object, not simply removed from architecture, but intended to isolate a picture from its surroundings.   The style of frame reflected the fashion of furniture at the time (see for instance the Baroque style antique picture frame pictured on the left) - this parallel between interior design and picture framing style is still strong today - many of the most popular contemporary framing styles in NZ  have strong, clean lines that reflect the trend for minimalism in our domestic and commercial interiors. This is an interesting area of uncovered ground for a New Zealand design student's thesis!

We are now enjoying researching how picture framing in New Zealand developed and will post our findings in the next article in what will be an occasional picture framing series.  We have already found that many of NZ's early artists made their own frames - a well-known example being C.F. Goldie whose distinctive style of a wide black oval wooden frame is still copied today when a print of one of his paintings is being framed. 

NZ Prints Video - New Zealand's Top Selling Art Prints in 2009

We have just created a short (1 minute) video celebrating NZ's top selling art prints by New Zealand artists in 2009.  Showcases the artwork of NZ painters and printmakers like Dick Frizzell, Ralph Hotere, Rita Angus, Bill Hammond, Grahame Sydney, Diana Adams and C.F Goldie.  Find out what was New Zealand's most popular print in 2009!

Vintage NZ Poster Art in a historical context

A recent article on vintage posters in the English newspaper The Daily Telegraph by renowned antiques expert Judith Miller (author of the eponymous Millers antiques guides) has been avidly read around NZ Fine Prints this week because over the last few months we have been doing a lot of work researching and if necessary re-printing retro or vintage style New Zealand travel and tourism posters.  As the popularity of vintage poster art increases in NZ we have had to respond to our customers requests to buy vintage travel and tourism posters with New Zealand subjects and themes as well as the traditionally popular French and American poster designers meant by doing a LOT of research in order to curate what is now NZ's most comprehensive collection of vintage posters.  Although she is writing about collecting original vintage posters Miller has a lot to say about what she calls the three great waves of popularity of vintage poster art - comments that are just as pertinent to those of us who enjoy the vintage poster as artful decoration rather than as investors in the field of collecting vintage poster art.

In New Zealand the catalyst for much of the current interest in collecting and decorating with NZ vintage posters would have to be attributed to the publication of Wellington based lecturer in graphic design Hamish Thompson's book "Paste Up: A Century of New Zealand Poster Art" in 2003 which was the first comprehensive study of the New Zealand poster.  However this book's publication may also have been symptomatic of a global revival of interest in collecting the work of poster designers as Miller writes that "In the world of antiques, a particular area of interest — a collecting field if you like — will often tick over quietly for a couple of decades or more and then take off, gradually expanding its appeal beyond hard-core aficionados to draw many more new and enthusiastic collectors. This has certainly been the case with vintage posters for the past three years, but it isn’t the first time. Indeed, we are in what might be described as Poster Art’s third great wave of popularity"

She goes on to write a useful outline of the evolution of poster art from the late 19th Century to the present day that enables us to place much of the popular early to mid twentieth century New Zealand poster art in some kind of historical and/or international context. Miller says "The first wave began with the emergence of the art form itself when, in the late 19th century, French artist Jules Chèret harnessed the technique of lithographic colour printing. This allowed him to reproduce posters at speed, and displaying chromatic intensities and subtleties comparable to the original artwork. By the early 1890s, the walls of Paris were covered in commercial posters promoting theatres, revues and café-bars, while the involvement of eminent artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha firmly established at the outset the poster’s status as a collectable art form in its own right, and one relatively affordable compared to the contemporary fine art in the Art Nouveau style that it mirrored. As their commercial potential became increasingly obvious to a rapidly expanding advertising industry, posters promoting domestic consumables — from soap and biscuits to cigarettes and alcohol — were produced in ever-increasing quantities as the 20th century unfolded."

It wasn't until this early twentieth century period that New Zealand poster designers weave themselves into the global story of poster art's evolution. As Miller writes "growth in leisure time witnessed poster promotions for sports such as golf, skiing and motor racing, while the accompanying expansion of tourism gave rise to posters for holiday destinations and the various methods of getting there: from bicycles, motorbikes and cars to trains, cruise liners and aeroplanes." This development was central to the New Zealand practice of poster advertising. Travel destinations such as Rotorua and Queenstown and activities such as fly-fishing, ski-ing or attending a health spa were promoted in posters designed at the NZ Government's quaintly named Department of Tourist and Health Resorts or the publicity studios of the NZ Railways.

Post second world war what Miller calls the first wave or "golden age of poster production and collecting" ended as posters were increasingly relegated to a supporting role for glossy magazines and, later, television advertising. However she writes that this all "changed in the late '60s with a second wave of popularity driven largely by the music industry and psychedelia … which drew heavily on Poster Art’s original stylistic inspiration, Art Nouveau, and also revived the role of the poster in home décor. The quiet period that ensued from the late Seventies was loudly superseded in 2005 when an original poster for Fritz Lang’s iconic 1927 film Metropolis sold at auction in the United States for a staggering $690,000 (£425,000)." Prices for original NZ posters have also rocketed in recent years, many posters are particularly rare because they were designed for consumption outside of New Zealand so very few remained in this country post publication.

Miller ends her article with a pithy summary of what to look for in a vintage poster - she is writing about buying the original printings of these posters for an investment but some of these guidelines would also apply to customers selecting re-printed NZ vintage posters that are available through New Zealand Fine Prints being purchased for retro or vintage style decoration.  Her guidelines include "look for boldness and clarity of design, crispness of printing, and strength or saturation of colour", "avoid trimmed margins, staining, creases and tears" and "always have mounting, framing and repairs done by a professional".

We are continuing to add new posters to our vintage collection - concentrating at the moment on vintage New Zealand travel and tourism posters.  If you have a particular favourite that is not yet shown please email us or give us a call - we'd love to hear about good retro or vintage images that are not yet in print so we can add these to our vintage posters collection in due course.

Robyn Kahukiwa - print by NZ's leading Maori artist released today

Today Robyn Kahukiwa is continuing her sought after series of large scale prints in small editions with the latest release, Kahukura.   Robyn says about this new print (shown here below, right) that "this 10 colour screenprint printed on Fabriano Artistico [watercolour paper that is double-sized 100% cotton and acid-free ] is part of a Native NZ series I have been painting for the last few years. Kahukura is the Maori name of the red admiral butterfly, and the Maori woman is shown with a kauwae or facial tattoo". There are only 30 prints in this edition which is being released today.

Kahukiwa is a contemporary Maori artist of Ngati Porou, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngati Hau, Ngati Konohi and Whanau-a-Ruataupare descent. The background notes for a recent exhibtion at Dunedin's Hocken Library describe her beginning painting in 1967 as a young housebound mother in Greymouth. Kahukiwa's early influences included Paul Gauguin, Colin McCahon, and later, Frida Kahlo, but her individual style developed entirely without formal training.  Much of her artwork is familiar to most New Zealanders from posters and books as well as her paintings in major art gallery collections throughout NZ. Kahukiwa wrote and illustrated children's books such as Taniwha (1986), Paikea (1993), The Koroua and the Mauri Stone (1994) and Kehua (1996). In collaboration with writer Patricia Grace, she produced The Kuia and the Spider (1981) Watercress Tuna and the Children of Champion Street (1981), and Wahine Toa: Women in Maori Myth (1984). The curator of the Hocken exhibition wrote that "The importance of Maori knowing their whakapapa (ancestral lineage) is a dominant thread in Kahukiwa's work. She seeks to overlay the sense of disenfranchisement and flagging self-esteem felt by many Maori, with messages and symbols of hope, strength, and celebration." Her publisher, Reed Books, says that Robyn Kahukiwa has been painting and exhibiting art that celebrates contemporary socio-cultural issues that are "central to the Maori experience in Aotearoa New Zealand today but equally relevant to all indigenous peoples of the world; ranging over issues such as colonialism and the dispossession of indigenous people, motherhood and bloodties, social custom, mythology and political activism. "

Current head of Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland, past Museum of New Zealand's Director of Art and Visual Culture and honoury Kaitiaki Maori (Curator of Maori Art at the Christchurch Art Gallery) Jonathan Mane-Wheoki has written of Robyn Kahukiwa that "No contemporary Maori woman artist is better known than Robyn Kahukiwa. Her images fit simultaneously into four different cultural contexts, those of Maori women's art, contemporary Maori art, contemporary New Zealand art and international indigenous art."

It's not just New Zealand art critics who laud the work of Robyn Kahukiwa. Leading British art critic and prolific writer Edward Lucie-Smith has published more than a hundred books in all, including more than sixty books about art, chiefly but not exclusively about contemporary work. He is generally regarded as the most prolific and the most widely published writer on art with sales for some titles totaling over 250,000 copies. A number of his art books, among them Movements in Art since 1945 , Visual Arts of the 20th Century, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Art Today are used as standard texts throughout the world. He has written extensively about Kahukiwa's work and sees both Gauguin and Deigo Rivera as key figures in the context of Robyn Kahukiwa's work.  Like Rivera he sees Kahukiwa walking a tightrope stretched "between the desire to produce something that not only seemed indigenous but actually was so – in other words something true to a fundamental notion of [Maori-ness] – but also something comprehensible within the conventions of post-Renaissance European art." Lucie-Smith writes "when one looks at the evolution of her work one sees not only a restless exploration of new media and new ways of making art, but a determination both to make emphatically public works, which speak not only for herself but for the whole Maori community, as well as others designed primarily for private contemplation, Kahukiwa is one of a small but highly original and influential group of women painters of Maori descent who have greatly extended the range of recent New Zealand art, they have been able to speak to both communities – Maori and Pakeha."

Robyn has already had the honour of two nationwide touring solo exhibitions of her work, Wahine Toa (1983) and Mauri Ora (2002).

We are delighted to stock both Robyn's smaller, more affordable, series of limited edition screenprints on handmade paper and all three of her larger scale prints that are currently available in the Robyn Kahukiwa collection and all of Kahukiwa's prints are featured in our Maori art gallery.  Please note however that there is only one print of Tino Rangatiratanga Tiki left in the edition - please order promptly to avoid disappointment.