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Eli Wilner Creates a Replica of a Historic Frame by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Once the sheets of gold leaf applied to the prepared surface of the frame had dried, the frame was carefully burnished.

NEW YORK, NY.- Eli Wilner & Company recently completed an elaborate tabernacle frame for an important Alma-Tadema painting, Fortune’s Favorite, one of the highlights of Sotheby's Fall 2016 19th Century Paintings sale. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), a painter active in the late nineteenth century in Britain, was well-regarded for his depictions of classical antiquity. Fortune’s Favorite (oil on panel, circa 1890) is a light infused and intimate depiction of a trio of Roman women luxuriating on a carved stone balcony overlooking the Bay of Naples. Over time, the original frame was lost, prompting Sotheby’s to consult with Eli Wilner & Company.

Alma-Tadema often made use of tabernacle frames for his paintings, some of which he designed himself. Eli Wilner & Company proposed to precisely replicate an Alma-Tadema designed tabernacle frame, which the artist designated for his painting, Spring (oil on canvas, 1894). This selection was based upon research that revealed Alma-Tadema worked on Spring simultaneously with Fortune's Favorite, and for four years the paintings were paired side-by-side in his studio. To determine the appropriate scale and other details for Fortune’s Favorite, the Wilner gallery staff provided the Sotheby’s team with digital mockups.

350 hours of labor were dedicated to the creation of the Alma-Tadema replica frame. To begin with, Eli Wilner & Company craftsmen constructed a complex wooden substrate that involved several interlocking shaped lengths of molding. This design required the utmost precision to achieve the perfect proportions that make tabernacle frames so uniquely beautiful.

The various classical ornaments typical of the tabernacle frame were hand carved separately. The elements were inspired by ecclesiastical architecture and characterized by the appearance columns and pediments. Also incorporated into the design were corbels with floral elements at the base of the columns and rows of egg and dart ornament on the pediments.

Once assembled in its entirety, all facets of the frame were prepared for the centuries-old technique of water gilding. First, many layers of gesso, a glue and chalk binder, were applied and sanded smooth. After the gesso was sufficiently dry, a master carver used fine tools to re-chase any areas of detailed ornament that were flooded by the gesso. Next, layers of ochre and red clay, also known as bole, were painted on. This underlayer ultimately affected the tone and warmth of the gold leaf, which is only 1/250,000 of an inch thick. A highly skilled artisan moistened the frame surface with a mixture of water, alcohol and hide-glue, known as “gilder’s liquor”, and then dexterously placed each 3 ⅜” square sheet of gold with a delicate brush in even, overlapping layers.

After the gilding had dried, areas of the frame were selectively burnished with agate tipped tools to create subtle variations in levels of reflection. Finally, a sophisticated wash was applied to complement the artist’s palette and give the object a sense of age.

Eli Wilner & Company specializes in European and American period frames and frame restoration, boasting an inventory of over 3,500 frames spanning the 15th century to the present. For over 30 years, Eli Wilner & Company has been entrusted with the creation of thousands of historically appropriate frames for renowned auction houses, museums and private collectors.

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