A Segantini Sparks a Frame War

Before and after: Giovanni Segantini's Spring in the Alps, 1893

In April I noted that the Getty Museum had replaced the artist-designed gilt frame of Giovanni Segantini's Spring in the Alps with a white modern frame. In The Frame Blog, Lynn Roberts argues against the change: "it is a disgrace that its present owner (an otherwise reputable museum) should be so careless of its overall history and context as to remove what should be an inseparable element of the gesamtkunstwerk—the overall work of art, designed by the artist and decorated with motifs which expand upon the content of the painting."

Detail of narcissus blossoms on original frame

The motifs in question are small reliefs of narcissus blossoms, suited to the title season and mountain range. While the narcissi are subtle, they relate to more sculptural botanical motifs in other Segantini frames of the 1890s, such as the Triptych of Nature in the Segantini Museum, St. Moritz.

Frame of Giovanni Segantini's Nature, 1897-99. Segantini Museum, St. Moritz

Roberts links to my first post on the new Getty frame but is slightly confused—I have no connection with LACMA(!) LACMA's blog is called Unframed… 

Making a surprise appearance in Roberts' case is Victorian fairy painter John Anster Fitzgerald, who imagineered hyper-weird twig frames for his paintings of fantasy subjects. Roberts cites Fitzgerald as an example of the late 19th-century interest in creative, artist-designed frames integral to the painting. Coincidentally, there's a Fitzgerald painting at the Getty now, in "The Fantasy of the Middle Ages." His Fairies in a Bird's Nest had a twig frame, and I was hoping to see it here. Instead it's being shown in a simple rectangular frame. Maybe the twig frame was too fragile to travel? The Fitzgerald is owned by the Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco (which had the Segantini Spring in the Alps on loan for 71 years). 

John Anster Fitzgerald, Fairies in a Bird's Nest, 1860, in original frame. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco


Anonymous said…
Very well-researched article at that blog. Some hipsters, however, at the Getty will disagree. But they can't argue that a lack of scholarship means the new frame is open to creative interpretation and therefore perfectly acceptable.

At least the museum's trendiness didn't cause to cause the frame to be smaller or bust the Getty's budget.
In the past, on this frame question, I had been ambivalent on choosing which design worked best. Yes, Segantini designed the gilt frame especially for the picture, so that was a good argument for retaining it. But the white-painted frame was more in line with the Swiss cultural aesthetic for a Swiss landscape.
Given that the Getty is not a democracy and we don't get votes, I'll tender my vote anyway: stick with the white-painted frame.
Segantini was a fine painter, but his frame designs, based on the trove of examples displayed in The Frame Blog, are mixed/spotty.
Yes, as the critic Lynn Roberts notes regarding the original gilt frame, "The motifs in question are small reliefs of narcissus blossoms, suited to the title season and mountain range." But the overall affect is still retrograde. There's certainly nothing revolutionary about the design...it's more incongruously 18th-Century French than it is late-19th Century Swiss.
Now, there is a galaxy's difference between his tired gilt frame for the Getty picture, and the quite brilliant one he made for his "Nature," of 1897-99 in the Segantini Museum at St. Moritz. That dandy has an Orientalist/Aesthetic style that is novel, modern and forward-thinking.

I count John Anster Fitzgerald as a frame maker extraordinaire, with his twig frame for "Fairies in a Bird's Nest." It's stunningly beautiful. If I were the Legion of Honor, I wouldn't let that gem of a frame travel either.
But there were scads of late-19th Century painters who designed their own frames. One of my favorites is Franz von Stuck (German, Tettenweis 1863–1928 Munich).
His "Inferno" of 1908 at the Met has an understated and powerful frame, with a title-bearing predella:


Also, his frame for "Sphinx" of 1904 at the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt is even more revolutionary:


I wasn't aware until reading your report that Segantini's "Spring in the Alps" had been on loan to the Legion of Honor for 71 years before the Getty acquired it.
I am reminded of the decades I visited the Met with foreboding, when I never left the building without first seeing "An Eruption of Vesuvius" of 1824 by Johan Christian Dahl (Norwegian, Bergen 1788–1857 Dresden). It was on long-term loan for well over 25 years, and I always thought/feared that I would return to the Met and it would be gone.
Well, worried I am no more: the owner, Christen Sveaas, gifted it and many other Nordic masterpieces to the Met in 2019, in celebration of the Museum's 150th Anniversary.


On the matter of long-term loans: at the Met there's a magnificent 19th-Century sculpture of "Sappho," ca. 1895, by Count Prosper d'Epinay (Port Louis, Mauritius,1836–1914 Paris). I've long admired it but never took the time to read the gallery card. Some of its details stuck out like a lightning bolt:
Credit Line: Lent by Count Prosper d'Epinay, 1897
Accession Number: O.L.97.IV [O.L. presumably means Old Loan (?)]


D'Epinay died in 1914, so I surmise he forgot to pick it up.
Which begs the question, are the sculptor's heirs, if any, acceding to the continuing loan? If the inheritor trail has died out after 125 years, does the Met ever plan to seek to obtain full title, as the work could be claimed to be "abandoned"?
These are questions for the art lawyers.
Anonymous said…
Personally, I prefer the original golden relief frame. The white frame looks too modern and gives the painting a flat, Thomas Kinkade-look.
Anonymous said…
Yes, the Fitzgerald frame is too fragile to travel.
Anonymous said…
It's amazing how poor some people's sense of good judgment and quality/appropriateness are. Which staffers at the Getty are responsible for this wrong-headed change?
Rama dev said…
@Tim Gallagher • fair enough that our 21st century sensibility aren't always aligned with that of a more or less temporally, and geographically distant past. I am, for one, personally not enamored with some of what went on at the time of Giovanni Segantini, although I love his Vincent like uncompromising, and frenetic ways. When you write that the Gettyn imposed "white-painted frame was more in line with the Swiss cultural aesthetic for a Swiss landscape", besides you playing an IMHO wokeish, to be wholly rejected revisionist card, it seems you might have 19th century Switzerland confused with 21st century Sweden. The alpine country of course has many cultural identities, but Ikea isn't one of them! Furthermore, Segantini is 100% Italian culturally speaking, and much of his personal and artistic reference was there, being born there of Italian parents, and only moving to the Engadin Valley, a stones throw from Italy, in adulthood, and furthermore, as an established painter. Yes the Engadin and St. Moritz are quite Helvetic, and many associate the Alps with Switzerland, but that frankly is an error most often created by the oversimplification of distance, and perhaps chocolate company marketing. Less Toblerone (Italian word) for you, and for the folks at the Getty museum! My undemocratic $0.02.
Anonymous said…
> D'Epinay died in 1914, so I surmise he forgot to pick it up.
> Which begs the question, are the sculptor's heirs, if any,
> acceding to the continuing loan?

That's kind of the flip side of where artworks, mainly from the distant past, now displayed in certain museums (such as the Getty) are being claimed as stolen from their ancestral homeland. Of course, there are also cases involving paintings or other objects grabbed by the Nazis in the 1930s-40s.

I'm sure if D'Epinay were a hotter name in the auction world and the artwork weren't so heavy, everyone and their uncle would be coming out of the woodwork and demanding they were the sculpture's rightful heirs.
Hodler is neither here nor there, to my point.
Don't believe me. Visit for yourself the 19th Century collections in any gallery in Zürich, Geneva, Basel, Lausanne, Bern or Winterthur.
To a one, the frames' descriptor is plain, plain, plain.
Anonymous said…
The white frame is really unappealing at first glace, like something you'd buy at Ikea or Target. It seems a lot of thought went in to changing the frame but even with modern frames, but what they ultimately used was not the right choice.