National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the K. M. Christensen and A. E. Bond Bequest and the NGV Foundation, 2005
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of The Vizard Foundation
John Thallon 209 Little Collins Street East, Melbourne
The frame is very simple in construction. It is formed from the mitred assembly of four planks of Californian redwood,1 each plank being 10 ins. wide, with a relieved section forming the frieze panel. The frieze panel is decorated with twigs, leaves and blossoms pinned in place with small flat-head nails.2 The inner and outer raised strips (taeniae) have been gilded. The frieze section, including the decorative work, has been painted gold. The rebate is let into the wide plank and uses a single block centred edge-side on the reverse to add extra security for the painting. The mitred corners are re-enforced on the reverse, with large triangles of timber screwed and glued in place across the joint.
The frame is in remarkable condition given the fragility of the decorative work. Passages of the foliage that were later replacements were removed in 2006. There are numerous losses in the remaining twigs and leaves. There appear to be at least three layers of gold coloured paint applied across the frieze section. The first may be as early as 1892. Despite the large width of the plank of wood there appears to be little shrinkage across the grain and the mitres are relatively tight.
167.8 x 193.0 x 5.0 cm; sight 115.0 x 140.5 cm
This extraordinary frame is remarkable on a number of levels. It is another example of the wide, flat format we see being used in Melbourne in the last years of the nineteenth century. It is an example of a frame being ornamented by the artist, but, more particularly, it may be a singular remaining example of the use of actual plant material as the decoration on a frame at this time. The frame is the one itemized in John Thallon’s ledger under Louriero, 1 frame 56 x 46R red pine and gold 11 inch wide, costing £4-5s.3 This entry indicates the frame supplied to Louriero was the base of what we now have, a wide flat of timber with gilded outer and inner edges. This suggests that the artist applied the decorative work himself. There is further evidence in a newspaper report in Table Talk, 19 September 1890, describing a visit to Louriero’s studio.
A word or two must be said about the frame of the picture, which is very ingenious, and more in keeping with the subject than a heavy gold setting. A broad frame of plain wood has been used, and on this are laid sprays and tiny branches of wattle-blossom, symbolic of Spring. When complete, the whole may be either gilt or left in its natural state.4
A similarly decorative frame appears above the fireplace in the artist’s studio represented by Arthur Montague in Senhor Louriero’s studio, (West end), 1892 (2002-176) though in the painting the frame has a green cast.
Spring was exhibited in this frame at the Victorian Artists Society exhibition in May 1892 and appears in a photograph of the exhibition, where a number of broad flat frames can be seen on paintings. One, around a seascape, carries a raised relief ornament of seashells, including a starfish, which gives a context for the Louriero frame. It is also apparent that the botanical specimens were in place at the time of this exhibition, though the tonality of the image would suggest the surface was painted with gold coloured paint – much as it is now.
1 The timber has been positively identified by Jugo Illic of Know Your Wood, wood identification services, as Sequoia sempervirens.
2 The plants have been identified as Acacia (blossom, twigs, leaves), clematis (leaves, twigs and flowers) and river red gum (twigs and leaves). This general identification was made by John Reid and Val Stajsic, botanists, Identifications and Information Service, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
3 The dating within the ledger is ambiguous, leaving doubt as to the month and year of many entries. The R stands for rebate dimensions, effectively the dimensions of the painting, and these dimensions match those of Spring exactly, leaving little doubt this entry describes the frame. The year is most likely 1889 and the month could represent March or November. This fits well with the frame being seen in the studio in an unfinished state in 1890, though the painting is finally dated 1891 and was exhibited the next year.
4 This citation in Table Talk is courtesy of Terence Lane.