Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Do frames help to sell art?

I was very taken with the new frames being used by a very well established member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters at their annual exhibition last week.

So much so that this was the first photo I took.  I really loved the way the frames were neutral and unassuming and enabled eyes to focus purely on the painting.

Oil paintings by Roger Dellar ROI
red dots indicate two have sold
By the time I'd been round the exhibition twice I realised that I was also beginning to notice something else about frames.

That's when I went round again - and this time I counted.

Now what follows is not scientific. Also, it of course takes no account of the quality of the painting or the reputation of the painter or why the paintings in question sold.  Plus I didn't manage to track down every sale so I've got one or two gaps. It was also done relatively soon after the exhibition opened and there will be more sales by now.

However even I was surprised by the result.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about what I found about different types of frames while writing this post. You may well be very surprised!

First let me describe what I mean by my description of the frames - and what the results were of my count and analysis.

Different Types of Frames

I categorised the frames into four different categories
  • traditional frames
  • traditional with gilt
  • contemporary wood
  • contemporary painted

I counted frames which leaned towards traditional  as contemporary if the profile was relatively simple and in all other respects conformed to the contemporary painted frame i.e. single colour which is NOT saying "look at me".


A complex profile for the frame which often uses liners. Very often it is typically more than one colour which may co-ordinate or contrast. This is the type of frame which, in the past, has been seen as the mark of 'proper painting'. I'd like to challenge that view and suggest that this perspective is now out of date and that the profile of the frame is no more than a fashion which has had its day - except in some contexts.

The only paintings which to my mind can carry traditional frames are very large ones - which need the weight of the frame. However a contemporary frame with weight would do the job equally well.

(PS I don't have a photo of a sold painting from this exhibition in this type of frame - I'll find one from another exhibition and include it here as an example)

Traditional with gilt 

Traditional Frame: complex profile includes gilt strip
Trad. Frame with complex profile
plus double gilt strip
A traditional frame with some sort of gilt or gilt line somewhere on the frame. It very typically has more than colour.

Gilt is associated with museums and auction rooms and people with lots of money - or so people think!

However if you go into any contemporary art gallery you would be hard pressed to find any gilt.

I came across some interesting examples of people trying to paint over gilt frames to try and make them look more interesting.

In one instance, somebody had taken metallic paint to try and knock back the 'gold' gilt look. I think maybe somebody had missed the point about needing to reduce the metal not increase it!

Contemporary Wood

A wood frame that is clearly a wood frame.

It is usually treated i.e. it has been waxed or limed or stained - but is clearly wood (i.e. the grain shows through. It could be any profile so long as it was not overly complex.

Contemporary: simple wood box frame
A wood frame which leans towards tradition
but it has been stained one colour so it looks more contemporary
This tends to be the 'halfway house' adopted by some artists
who aren't sure what an art society might find acceptable

Contemporary painted

Painted wide flat frame
ivory white
Simple painted narrow frame with liner 
- both painted ivory/cream 
(on £1,000+ Painting)

Contemporary: Narrow painted frame
painted white it disappears into the wall
and isolates the 'floated' painting
on the wall
This is a simple (or simpler) profile frame which has been painted in a very neutral colour - typically black, white, ivory, cream, buff or a taupe colour. This isolates the painting and emphasises focus on the painting rather than the frame.

The image at the top of this post provides an excellent example of this type of frame.

There is an enormous variation  on 'simple' in terms of width and profile but the marked characteristic is that it draws attention to the painting rather than the frame. They tend not to use a spacer.

It's also a frame which can accommodate a painting which apparently floats.

Analysis: Types of frames on sold paintings by price range

So here are the results - followed by pictures of some of the different types of frames. The table below categorises sold paintings at the annual exhibition of the ROI on the afternoon of the 4th December into:
  • type of frame
  • range of sale price

Sale Price
Type of Frame
Under £500
Above £1,000

(complex profile)

(complex / gilt)

Contemporary Wood
(simple / wood or wood stain )
Contemporary Painted
(simple profile / painted)

As you can see, contemporary painted frames come top in every price range and are top of the frames by a very long way.
  • So what do you think about the results?
  • Do you think the type of frame used helps to sell art?
  • Will this make you think twice about what sort of frame you use in future?

A few more days to see the exhibition

The annual exhibition of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters continues until 1pm on Sunday 13th December at the Mall Galleries

Framing: more blog posts

Link: Roger Dellar's website is http://www.rogerdellar.com


  1. Very very interesting , I think frames are so important, not only can they make a painting look wonderful on the wall but a good and well thought out frame says that the artist values their work, it's the presentation. I never understood why an artist who has taken time and effort with their work, who is expecting a fair price for their work then puts it in a shoddy badly made frame, it happens more than you would imagine.

  2. Great article. I've been researching online and physical galleries for 6 months and the sales in each reflect your results. Buyers seem to want clean sharp lines for frames.

  3. Very interesting. My mum has a book on frames and inside the cover is written 'The frame is the pimp of the painting". Totally agree with what you've written above!

  4. The frame should compliment the art work such that, "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts".

  5. Thank you for that useful piece of information. It's nice to have confirmation of what I was thinking but hadn't quite decided if it was right!

  6. If your question is "does the type of frame correlate well with sales of any sort", then you would need to include the NON sales column in your data. The data included can only hope to show if there is a correlation between sales price (column) and frame type (row) given that a sale occurred at all. That said, there isn't enough data to make a reliable statistical test anyway.

    Just for fun, assuming there were enough counts in each cell of the table (which there aren't) and using these numbers with a CHI SQUARE test for independence, the price and frame types are likely independent of each other. (p=0.23)

  7. I don't normally allow anonymous comments (why do people need to hide their name one wonders?)

    However this one needs a response which goes as follows:
    1) Did you read the bit where I said this wasn't scientific? Did you understand what I meant?
    2) I'm perfectly capable of running a Chi Square test however my experience is that artists in the main would not understand the results or the significance issues hence the exercise would be redundant
    3) In future I'll be (a) categorising ALL the paintings; (b) including an analysis of non-sales and (c) keeping things very simple in terms of presentation and explanation. I'll also be doing that on the last day of the exhibition.

    I'm puzzled by your comment that there isn't enough data to run a reliable statistical test. The concept of "reliability" relates to the sampling frame and the number chosen to represent the population of the whole. In other words "Is the sample big enough such that the results of a sample effectively indicate the performance of the whole?"

    The population for the purposes of this post is ALL the paintings sold in this exhibition ONLY. My sample reflects the whole population (minus a couple). In other words the sample is the population. I didn't comment on the paintings that were not sold - for the simple reason that I did't count them.

    Also I'm not extrapolating my conclusion to ALL paintings ever painted by ALL artists anywhere in the world and displaying their artwork in ALL exhibitions. That would just be silly.

    Instead I'm taking the example of one exhibition and making an observation based on a simple count of all sold paintings.

    I am deliberately ignoring who painted them (factual), what the subject matter is (factual), whether they were a member or not (factual) and whether the painting was any good (opinion). Any of these reasons might relate to the reason why the painting sold. However if one hold all those others factors constant across an exhibition of 292 paintings, it's interesting to look at performance in relation to just one factor.

    Finally, I'm not making a prediction. I'm making a very simple observation asking a very simple question.

    I think most people reading it grasped the main message - which is "Have a long hard think about whether your current method of framing is suitable for your target market".

    Another way of putting it might be "Has the style of frame you have used stayed the same for 10+ years? Do you think it might be time to consider a change?"

  8. I've only entered the ROI for the last two years and been lucky enough to have artwork picked for those two years. I send work in via one of their approved art couriers and I frame my work very simply with a very thin contemporary painted frame that I make myself. I choose a very basic frame because of the possibility of damage during transit etc. In this type of environment the frames invariably take knocks and so I don't go overboard on framing but I think the very thin frames complement my work. I haven't sold anything yet but my abstract photorealist style is quite different to anything else on display and my prices are fairly high at around £9000. I think my potential buyers would be a tiny minority of those that visit the exhibition. But potential sales are not why I enter, it's purely to hopefully one day become a member.

  9. I remember that painting - and it's very different from what can normally be seen in the ROI exhibition. Nice to see somebody painting in a different way as well!

    £9,000 is high relative to the general price levels. People can check these out by reviewing the online e-catalogue which can be found here http://issuu.com/mallgalleries/docs/roi_2015_e-catalogue

  10. Perhaps you could tell us where these lovely frames come from and what this neutral colour actually is. It would be helpful to know where R.D. gets them from!

  11. You can do the same thing as me if you have questions - contact the artist and ask politely! :)

  12. A subject I have pondered over a lot. The trouble with the gilt to traditional frames is that they were designed to hang on Victorian or before walls with damask red wall paper and lit by candles or gas light. Now we have white walls and LEDs. Today's uncluttered walls are very unfriendly for small intimate representational pictures. The reverse is true for a large unframed abstract which sits well in a sparse environment. I sometimes wonder a little unkindly why some artists seem to frame their paintings to look good in their grannies flat!
    The way seems to be to have a generous but not to fussy frame painted in a neutral. Nothing will really help though as when a flat white wall in an apartment or a gallery is put up against a painting the wall will always win.


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