Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...The Framing of Art in a Mirror: The Counterproofs of Mary Cassatt

In Fall 2004, Marc Rosen Fine Art Limited presented the exhibition Art in a Mirror: The Counterproofs of Mary Cassatt, which opened at Adelson Galleries in New York City. For us, at Lowy, it was one of the major highlights of that season, as we had the honor of framing 48 pastel counterproofs for the exhibition.


We first learned about the project when Warren Adelson, president of Adelson Galleries, told Larry Shar about the discovery of this cache of important Cassatt works during the summer of 2004 and discussed with him the framing needs for the exhibition. The prospect of framing nearly 50 never-before-seen Cassatts in this little-understood medium was very exciting to the Lowy team. The thought of having to produce them in little more than one month’s time, however, presented some logistical concerns. After unanticipated (but typical) bureaucratic delays in shipping the works from France (where they had been discovered), everyone was relieved and delighted when the counterproofs finally cleared customs in New York in late August.

 

Counterproofs are made by placing a damp sheet of paper on top of a pastel or charcoal drawing either rubbing or by use of a press, thus creating a mirror image onto the new sheet of paper. The process yields a softer and more subtle image of the virtually unchanged pastel, giving different artistic expression to the same image. When Brad and Larry Shar viewed the Cassatt counterproofs at the gallery, they were awed by their beauty and subtlety and were surprised at their relatively large dimensions. 

 

The framing of these works presented the challenge of choosing appropriate historical and aesthetically enhancing moldings, packaged in an archivally sound method to work harmoniously in the gallery space, and delivering them on time for the November 1 opening. We decided that all consultations, measurements, and the subsequent installation would be done in situ at the gallery for the safety of the as-yet-unprotected and fragile sheets of pastel.  

“When the collection of counterproofs arrived at Adelson Galleries, we installed five long tables on our second floor to accommodate them,” said Warren Adelson. “Larry and Brad Shar joined Marc Rosen and me to examine them, and we made some preliminary decisions on the framing.”

 

“I have done business with Lowy since 1970,” Adelson continued, “and Larry and I have always communicated well. He and Brad quickly understood our needs. Later that day they returned with two bags of frame corners and we started the process. The first piece took almost 90 minutes; there were many ways to go aesthetically, and we explored many styles. After that first decision, it became increasingly easier to make selections, and after four hours, we had chosen 25 frames. The following day we finished the lot of them. The great fun of it, however, was the examination of each piece and the discussions we had. Larry and Brad had their own input, and Marc and I had a chance to discuss the look and feel of each work. It was a rare experience, as though we were looking at the latest production of a contemporary artist.”

 

Moldings were selected on an individual basis to best enhance each work and to make sense from a historical perspective. Among the styles chosen were a late 19th-century, “Degas”-style reeded molding and variations of that genre, some Stanford White-designed composition frames, a late 19th-century, sand panel frame with oak-leaf top, a simple, late 19th-century cassetta shape, as well as more traditional 18th-century pastel-style moldings. Patinas were chosen to best complement the soft pastel tones of the individual artworks.

“The process was terrific fun,” added Marc Rosen. “We started at it from three different points of view, but quickly settled on a half dozen moldings that seemed to work well, depending on the different density and texture of the works. Many of the moldings were much bolder than I would have chosen without Larry’s input, and they look stunning. I am certainly grateful for the experience and perspective he brought to the job, as well as for the extraordinary speed with which the whole project was accomplished.”

 

It was Rosen who suggested the clever idea of hinging each piece to a ragboard backing and making a ragboard “bookmat” independent of the framing materials, so that the fragile pastel images could always be handled safely if removed. Lowy mattings were fitted over these ragboard mats one-quarter of an inch wider to hide the edges of the undermats. The mats and/or liners were wrapped in neutral silks to act as a transition from the gilded edges of the frame to the softer pastel tones on the artwork. The mats also provided proper and safe separation between glazing material and the surface of the art.  RF Acrylic™, a new product from Tru-Vue®, was employed as the glazing material for its anti-static, ultra-violet-protective and anti-reflective qualities. The artworks were finally secured with turn buttons on the back for easy removal if needed. 

 

We, at Lowy, took great pride in being a vital part of the groundbreaking exhibition and were delighted to have helped in this endeavor. Warren Adelson added, “It’s such a pleasure to work with everyone at Lowy. We rely on their keen eyes, expertise, and professionalism. “As we’ve come to expect, they were able to achieve in a timely fashion our vision of how these marvelous Cassatts should be presented. When they were framed, they were even more wonderful, but I will never forget the look and feel of those four dozen pieces of paper spread out on tables as though they were done yesterday.”

 

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