Crispian Riley-Smith Fine Arts Ltd


How To Hang, Frame And Mount Drawings And Watercolours

This Article Was First Published In Antique Collecting, October 2008

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Often clients ask me should a drawing be hung in the direct sun-light? What sort of glass should I use for this drawing or watercolour? How should this pastel be framed? Where do you get your mounts from? Where do you get your frames from? These are all relevant questions, and it would be fair to say that I spend as much time mounting and framing a drawing as I do when considering a purchase. Why is this the case? I am not unusual in this habit, and it is one that is followed by collectors and dealers alike. In the end a drawing is purchased so it may be hung on the wall and enjoyed for its visual pleasure as much as a painting or a print. A dealer needs to consider framing and mounting as much as a private collector, however the difference is the dealer is doing this on a regular if not daily basis. In this article I aim to offer some practical advice about the hanging, framing and mounting of drawings and watercolours. This advice is equally applicable to gouaches, pastels and works on vellum. I will be discussing these other mediums as well in this article. The advice can be transported to prints, though in this article I will be focusing on original drawings and watercolours.

As a dealer in drawings, watercolours and pastels for the last 12 years I have handled many pictures for a retail environment. I understand how pictures need to be presented to private individuals so they may be hung in a domestic setting and last for years to come. I also appreciate what museums and institutions require as well. In addition I have worked in an auction environment for a further 8 years and I have seen many drawings coming directly from private collections. I also understand how drawings have been handled over the centuries and how this affects their current and future appearance. If a drawing has been cared for it can be as fresh as the day it was done, however we all live in the real world and for one reason or another pictures do get damaged or reach us in a less than ideal situation. However you can help the picture survive for another few hundred years if you follow a number of practical steps. The reason these steps need to be followed is to avoid some of the damage caused by light or extreme fluctuating temperatures, relative humidity, pollution, pests, poor handling and storage.

Taking the practical advice along logical steps I will start with the mount. A drawing can suffer from a poor mount, this can appear in the form of foxing. Foxing is caused by a bacteria or mould which grows on acidic paper. If the drawing is in contact with boards containing unpurified wood pulp it may turn the paper brown or brittle or cause mount burn. The conservation mount comprises of a mount, a window and an undermount, see figure 1. To provide adequate physical and environmental protection both boards should be at least 4-6 sheets thick. The board should be hinged along one edge using either a conservation gummed white paper or linen tape, see figure 2. In figures 1-4 you can see how this is followed on a pastel drawing by Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805). The pastel drawing has been window floated, which means that all the drawing can be seen and is not gripped by the mount. This is preferable, if there is no damage to the drawing’s edges, since it allows a ‘true’ visual appearance of the drawing. Nothing is being hidden. Since the drawing is in chalk there is a large mount, and it is advised that there should be 5-6mm between the top of the drawing and the glass. The hinges should never drum the drawing to a mount, but allow it to breathe and hang loosely. The hinges should be applied to the top edge of the verso of the drawing and stuck to the undermount, see figure 3. They should be easy to remove at a future date. Ideally they should be freshly made of wheat or rice starch paste. Conservators like to use Japanese paper.

The paper structure changes depending on the level of humidity, and should be allowed to move. This is especially relevant with works on vellum and the skin is like a sensitive paper. If the drawing is firmly secured to a mount support it will split. Works on vellum do often appear warped, however this can remedied by approaching a specialist conservator. Typically are there no mounts for gouaches, they are treated in the same manner as a painting, though there will need to be a fillet between the edge of the picture and the frame, so to protect the edge of the picture rubbing against the frame, see figure 5. It is recommended that the fillet is 4-6 mm in depth. Gouaches tend to be treated as works on paper since they are invariable drawn on paper or card and the medium is closer to a watercolour than an oil. In this detail of a French 17th Century gouache the picture is framed to the edge of the picture, unlike a drawing where there is a traditional mount which is often hand coloured. Though in museums this mount tends to be plain.

The framing and mounting of a drawing is a very personal approach and I tend to prefer to use antique frames, see figure 4 and 5, which I buy from a dealer or re-use frames from purchases. This is a costly and timely process, but the overall affect is usually worth it. I will not go into the detail of how frames should be cut down, since this depends on individual situations or the age of the frame. However do not be put off the fact of buying old frames, it is common practise today, and has been common practise along the centuries for frames to be re-used. The following factors do need to considered when using an old frame. The rebate will need to be deep enough to accommodate the glazing, the windowmount, the undermount and the backing board. In addition the support structure of the frame needs to able to support the D rings and screws. Drawings need to be glazed to protect from the damage of the environment, such as light and humidity and where possible the glass should be UV (Ultra Violet) light filtering. Perspex or pexilglass can be used for framing of drawings, it tends to be lighter and less liable to break, however the surface does tend to scratch easier and should never be used for pastels or chalk drawings.

The drawing should be finally supported by a ph neutral backing board and sealed into the frame using non-rusting nails and a good quality gummed tape used to seal in the drawing, see figures 6,7 and 8. In this example illustrated I am sealing a drawing attributed to Giulio Romano (circa 1499-1546), and the tape will ensure that no pests come into contact with the paper, which they can spoil by dying on or even eating! Also you can see in this picture I am attaching my picture label to the back of the drawing, which is not only a personal touch, but also can provide vital information on the drawing which can be lost over time. I have often found very useful information on the back of pictures. Finally the picture wire is attached to D rings which are themselves screwed into the back of the picture.

Lastly the actual position of the hanging of the drawing in the house needs to be considered. Hanging a drawing on a south facing wall should be avoided since the picture will get the full sun light, but this concern can be evaded if you use a UV filtering glass. Also you should consider the wall you are hanging the picture on. If you are hanging on the interior of an outside wall will the temperature cause condensation? It is advised that drawings be kept in a cool and stable environment. Museums aim for a 16-19 oC and relative humidity of 45-60%. This may be difficult in a domestic setting, but a low and stable relative humidity of less than 60% is recommended. More often than not these guidelines are impossible to follow to the letter and common sense comes into place, but if you are not sure do ask a conservator or specialist dealer.

For more practical advice see: and and for specific questions on frame or mount suppliers.