The secret behind the frame

This week we welcomed our painting conservator, Carol Willoughby. The De Morgan Foundation is undertaking conservation on eleven of Evelyn De Morgan's paintings, and the first step in that process is taking the canvases out of the frames. The paintings and the frames will go to separate specialist conservators. This has been an interesting week for staff and volunteers, as it is a chance to experience the paintings close-up, see them out of their frames and, in some cases, uncover exciting new discoveries!


Evelyn painted this modest portrait of William in 1893, and the painting in its decorated gold frame has sat in our art store over the last few years. As the portrait is in need of conservation, we retrieved it this week to remove the canvas from it's frame. Although our conservators had previously noted that the frame seemed to be of unusual construction, Carol was not prepared for what she would discover when she removed the backing board!


The frame is made of wood and decorated cardboard corner pieces, and can be expanded widthways or lengthways as needed. Carol noted that this makes it particularly useful for putting the canvas back in the frame - many frames are a tight fit and it proves challenging to replace the canvas without causing damage, but this innovative frame makes the job easy! Both the wood and cardboard are painted gold and patinated to disguise its functionality, and it is quite remarkable how the front of this highly decorated frame gives no clue of its hidden use. You probably wouldn't guess that parts of it are made of cardboard. 

Carol told us that this is the first frame of this kind she's seen, though we're sure there must be more out there. If you have any information on these kinds of adjustable frames, please do let us know at


Take a look at the video below to see Carol demonstrate how this unique frame works.