27 Jul 21

What do frame maker labels reveal?

A frame maker’s label provides important historical information about the frame as an object, and also enhances our understanding of the relationship between a frame and the artwork within. Most commonly labels are in the form of printed rectangles of paper adhered to the back of a frame, displaying the framer’s business name, address and other information to advertise services provided. Labels are useful in determining the date or period of manufacture of a frame as, over the life of a business, many frame makers’ addresses may have changed several times. For example, the company John Thallon had sixteen different addresses in Melbourne over a fifty-year period. Changes in address may reflect the growth of the business or the contraction of services, to accommodate varied frame-making tasks and related activities.

Variations in the label design and information may also help to indicate a particular historical period. In using frame labels for dating, it is important to be aware that framers’ labels were also applied when frames were restored and in the packing and shipping of artworks; therefore, they do not always designate a frame’s manufacture or supply. Information on a frame label is only one puzzle piece that assists in dating a frame and the artwork it houses.

By Chance!

During the photography of the watercolour Portrait of Thomas Holroyd, Esq. by George Richmond, a fragment of a label was discovered on the back of the frame. The paper backing on the frame was carefully removed to reveal the entire label for London frame maker J. H. Chance. The address ‘84 Charlotte St., Rathbone Place’ had been crossed out and ‘28 London St./ Fitzroy Square’ was written in pencil on the right and left sides of the label. These penciled annotations indicate a date of around 1843 when the frame maker moved business premises.

These address details, as well as further information about the frame maker, were obtained from British picture framemakers, 1600-1950, an on-line resource by the National Portrait Gallery, London . James Henry Chance was a distant relative and friend of the artist George Richmond, and he made many frames for Richmond from the 1840’s to the 1870’s.

For further information about the frame see Portrait of Thomas Holroyd, Esq

Read more about frames at the NGV’s Centre for Frame Research

Detail of the label fragment found on the back of the frame for George Richmond’s Portrait of Thomas Holroyd, Esq.

George Richmond, Portrait of Thomas Holroyd, Esq., National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Gift of Miss H.S. Chamberlain, 1938. Frame: Original, 1843, by J.H. Chance, London.

An enhanced black and white image of the label for increased legibility of the pencil inscriptions.