The maker is identified by an entry in Thallon’s ledger for 19 May, 1898: 1 frame 6ft 6 x 4ft, 9 R … the wood with gilt slip, oak finish, £5-6. The entry is accompanied by a small sketch of the frame profile. The simplicity of the joinery of the frame is worth noting in the work of this framer. The original frame was retrieved from the monastery of The Benedictine Community of New Norcia Inc in 2000 and, though too deteriorated to be restored, was able to be used as an accurate model for reconstruction.1
The scale of the frame is bold and no longer commonly seen on paintings from the time.2 Few frames of this type remain on major works. The frame appears in the ledger under Longstaff’s name, suggesting a direct relationship between the painter, the painting and the frame – a relationship that became apparent when the painting was returned to the original frame format. The frame allows the painting a level of grandeur, while focusing attention on the drama of the subject. As with Arthur Streeton’s ‘The purple noon’s transparent might’ (33-2), Longstaff’s Gippsland, Sunday night, February 20th,1898 had been reframed in a ‘Whistlerian’ frame around 1941.
1 The reproduction frame was made with extraordinary attention to the detail of the original construction and finish by Mathew Adams and Louise Poon within the studio of Frames and Furniture Conservation of the NGV in 2002.
2 The painting appears in this frame in the background of a photograph of Circe by Bertram MacKennal on p. 97 of the Illustrated Catalogue of the National Gallery of Victoria, 1911.
The reproduction frame is made from Western red cedar, oak veneer (fumed and stained), with a gilded slip.
The original frame is made from a wide plank of softwood joined at an angle to an outer section made up from the lamination of two boards. The wide flat and the leading edge of the outer section are veneered with a very thin layer of white oak, which is interleaved with a layer of paper. The angled flat was glued and skew-nailed into the outer section before the veneer was attached. This is a method of construction which, on the one hand, is simple and economical and, on the other, implies certain difficulties in the process. Clearly it would be simpler to veneer the flat sections before cutting and fitting the frame together. The intersection of the flat section and the outer section is supported with blocks glued in place. The slip is similarly supported with blocks at the rebate. The slip is missing from what we have left of the frame but from old photographs it appears that it was a gilded surface. The veneered section appears to be stained.
The original frame has been cut down and has suffered considerable water damage to the veneer, leaving it too compromised in condition to be restored. It nevertheless offers reliable evidence of both the form and the finish of the reproduction frame.