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  • Writer's pictureVertu Art + Design

The Framing of Lady Agnew

Today is the birth date of Lady Agnew, painted here in John Singer Sargent’s “Lady Agnew of Lochnaw” (1865 - 1932), 1892.

This casual photo is one I recently took while visiting the National Gallery in Scotland. There is some excitement about this picture soon coming to the US (first stop: The Frick Collection in New York, 2015).  As a specialist in decorative art, I took this picture to exhibit a rare view of something we often overlook as art historians: the picture frame.  In 2006 I had the unique opportunity to conduct the most extensive museum picture frame survey to date  (Philadelphia Museum of Art); from the decorative art point of view, this was a furniture survey.  Frames, an important category of cabinetmaking, were crafted to the same high standard as the commodes and tables one finds today in major museums.  At the PMA I highlighted many spectacular 18th-century French picture frames such as this example.  Apparently Sargent often employed antique frames for his society portraits. In a letter to Sir Agnew about this portrait Sargent wrote: “Today I saw an old frame which I think might suit the picture."  The elegant decorative quality of the frame mirrors the brilliant textiles and sitter herself.  This portrait ensured Lady Agnew’s debut as a society beauty.  I am sure she, with her direct stare and nonchalant pose, intrigues modern viewers just as she did in 1892. 

For a good read on Sargent’s pictures frames:

Original Post: June 16, 2014

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