Early 19th Century: Federal, Sully, and Other Early Frames
In the early 19th Century England and the Continent exercised enormous influence over fashion in America. The gilded frames that academic artists chose for their portraits of the American aristocracy were imported from England or France, or they were copied by American craftsmen from European pattern books. The prevailing style on both sides of the Atlantic was Neo-Classicism, inspired by contemporary archeological discoveries among the ruins of ancient Rome.
American gilded frames of the Federal Period have high thin outer edges and deep coves. Their ornament is contained within the molding edges. The sides of the frames were frequently left ungilded and covered with a flat, mustard-colored paint.
In the 1820's Americans turned from ancient Rome as their source of inspiration to the world of ancient Greece. This shift in the prevailing taste was important in both architecture and interior design. It is well illustrated in the contrast between the delicate ornament of mirrors from the early years of the century and the mirrors of the 1830's, which have applied pilasters and corner blocks, giving them a weightier look.
One of the earliest truly American frame styles was the Sully style, named for the painter Thomas Sully. Sully frames have wide inward slanting profiles and smooth gilded surfaces. These beautiful frames were popular between 1830 and 1850 for large formal portraits, and they also survive today in smaller sizes. I am fortunate to have recently acquired a number of them from a collector, which I am offering here.
In the row of period corner samples to the right you can see a number of examples of American frames from the Federal Period, including a narrow molding with a twisted rope motif in the center of the cove and a wider molding with a running acanthus leaf pattern along the sight edge. The molding at the bottom is a Hogarth style frame, which was popular in England from the last part of the 18th Century well into the 1900's. I always try to keep a few of them on hand.