Eli Wilner & Company frames two important Monet paintings for the collection at Biltmore House

Artdaily_ Eli Wilner & Company has announced the creation of historically-appropriate replica frames for two important Claude Monet paintings in the collection of Biltmore House.

Wilner was approached by Lori Garst, Biltmore’s Curator of Collections, in the summer of 2022, about the desire to reframe the paintings.

Located in Asheville, North Carolina, Biltmore is the home of George Vanderbilt, the youngest son of William Henry Vanderbilt. Having grown up surrounded by his father’s famous collection of paintings, George Vanderbilt inherited his father’s passion for admiring and collecting art. A lifelong patron of the arts, he supported more modern artists of his time and acquired several paintings from art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, a dedicated advocate of the Impressionists. Impressionism interested Vanderbilt so much that over a ten-year period, George purchased sixteen paintings, including works by Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Maxime Maufra, and James McNeill Whistler. In 1892, he acquired two paintings from Durand-Ruel by Monet - “Strada Romana à Bordighera” (1884) and “Belle-Île, le chenal de Port-Goulphar” (1886).

In the 1930s-40s, the original frames on these two Monet paintings were replaced, and Garst wanted to reframe the works with Barbizon-style frames similar to those found on the other Impressionist paintings in Biltmore’s collection.

Taking this all into consideration, Eli Wilner personally selected two of the finest French 1880s frames from his collection of period frames to propose replicating for the Biltmore paintings and presented in the form of digital mockups. After approval of the chosen frame styles, a set of gilding samples was created for the Biltmore curatorial and conservation staff to review in person alongside the paintings and other frames in the collection. Wilner’s studio began the labor-intensive process of creating the frames as soon as detailed measurements of the paintings were provided.

The replica frames were created using the same techniques that were used on the original period frame studies. Basswood was chosen for the intricate wooden substrates which are composed of multiple interlocking sections. While Wilner’s carpentry team worked on the substrate assembly, box molds were created to take castings of the elaborate passages of ornament. A master carver then used fine tools to chase these details as they were delicately applied, ensuring that all of the ornaments would resolve harmoniously at the corners.

The frame finishing process began with the application of several layers of finely sanded gesso. This was followed by layers of bole, a liquid clay, in preparation for water gilding. Delicate sheets of gold leaf were applied gently with a squirrel hair brush and a water, glue, alcohol mixture known as “gilder’s liquor”. After two rounds of gilding, and appropriate drying time, areas of the frame were selectively burnished to bring out highlights and contrast to the various dimensions. Finally the surface was patinated with a combination of ink washes, wax, and shellac to a period-appropriate character.

After approval of the frame by Biltmore via digital images in early 2023, the frames were packed into individual crates and transported to Asheville, North Carolina to be united with the paintings. The pair of paintings are now back on view in their new frames.

Eli Wilner & Company has completed over 10,000 framing projects for private collectors, museums, and institutions including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and 28 projects for The White House. Wilner was honored by the Historic Charleston Foundation with the Samuel Gaillard Stoney Conservation Craftsmanship Award, for their work in historic picture frame conservation.