Frames are the finishing touch of an art piece but can devalue it too.

Sometimes you come across a wonderful artwork with a damaged frame. Old prints and plates usually suffer from effects that are caused by time: foxing  yellowing, browning or tearing.

Fixing upper antique frame
Here you can see an artwork with a damaged frame. At the bottom the whole top layer was scraped of. Aside from this the frame also has a few other spots where the gold paint is missing.

To me, these marks of aging are perfectly fine and acceptable, in some degree that is. I even think that nothing is more hideous than a “whiter than snow” antique print that is obviously bleached with aggressive bleaching agents. The print will look like it was printed yesterday and in some severe cases probably even looks whiter than it ever has! Some art dealers, trying to make a quick buck, might resolve to these harsh methods, but the prints suffer severely and the chlorides and other chemicals will damage the fibers of the old paper. I just stick to the motto; ” if its to white to be true, it probably is”. Same goes for teeth by the way. Most antique lovers would agree with me that some wear and tear actually adds to the charm and beauty of an antique item. After some time in the antique prints business, I have noticed that damaged frames dramatically devalue a piece of art. Frames are intended to serve as a window that you look through, they separate the artwork from the rest of the environment, so your eyes can focus on the work of art. Next to that, they also offer protection to the art piece, especially when glass is used. So when the frame is damaged, sharp visual lines are broken, and all these complimenting effects mentioned above, are compromised.

Not suitable for your wall
Fixer up damaged frame 2
A close-up of the damage done.

People tend to put these artworks away, since they find that these artworks are no longer suitable to put up on the wall. Maybe they will place them somewhere in the attic or cellar, and next you know, the glass gets broken and atmospheric effects have their way with the paper, leaving the artwork aged beyond its time.

A shame, and moreover a reason to keep original frames in tact. Here is how I do minor, (cosmetic) touch-ups on a damaged, antique frame. You can find a summary of the materials I used at the bottom of this page.

fix upper: retouching frames 3
Preparing the putty in a glass container and applying it with a dull bladed knife.
fix upper: antique frame 5
Before letting the putty completely dry out, when it is still mold able, I will smooth the putty out with my fingers as much as possible. After this it can harden for a few hours.


Fix up: antique frame 6
After drying I will sand the layer of putty and wipe it again with ammonia. After this the first layer of gold paint is applied. First light golden paint and after this a dark layer is applied. Letting the layers dry in between and making sure the layers are thinly applied.


Fix up: antique frames 6
After the two layers of gold paint, I will use a film of black oil paint, thinned with turpentine. I rub it in with my fingers to create the patina effect.
Fixing up antique frames, 7
Applying black oil paint with a brush and rubbing it in, gently tapping it in with a cloth also works. Letting a thin layer dry, and then applying yet another layer until it looks good, matching the old patina.
The end product. After this stage a thin layer of lacquer can be applied.













What I used for this: Fast drying wood plaster, (putty), Amsterdam acrylic gold paint, deep gold , nr. 803 and Amsterdam acrylic paint light gold, nr. 802. Brand-less black oil paint, turpentine, brushes, knife,cloth and sanding paper, (finely gritted)

One thought on “Retouching old frames

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