J. Laffan Fine Art Conservation

Professional Conservation and Restoration of Fine Art and Antiques, Ireland

Repairing Mirror and Picture Frames

Decorative gilt picture and mirror frames are either carved wood covered in a thin layer of chalk gesso, see 18th C. Irish portrait above, or moulded gesso composition on top of wood - see 19th C. Italian Madonna and Child.

The older frames, roughly before 1820, were carved wood covered in a thin layer of chalk finished in fine clays usually dark grey- black or red then gilded with gold leaf. By Victorian times the decoration was moulded from a composition of chalk, glue, rosin and linseed oil, heated then worked while warm. This went rock hard; it contracts over the years and leaves fine cracks. There are examples of carved wood frames from the 20th C. and types of composition materials from the Renaissance era. With the start of the industrial revolution, composition mouldings became more popular, it also allowed more finely worked decoration, which suited Victorian tastes.
photo of antique gilded mirror with broken candle holders
Victorian candelabra with damaged mirror.
photo of the candle holders repaired, but before the whole mirror has been re-gilded
Repaired; candle holder on right is a copy of one on left.
photo of a very shiny gilded mirror with candle holders
Finished Victorian oval mirror
This mirror was damaged by a chimney fire. The main glass was shattered and the fire burnt some panels on the back and charred the back of the frame. The real damage was to the front as a result of heat and then the water used to put out the fire. As a result there was great loss of the decorative mouldings.
photo of very large mirror frame with extensive fire damage and mirror glass missing
Victorian over mantle mirror. 152x158cm. Circa 1860-1880.
photo showing mirror frame after the many broken sections of mouldings have been restored
Work in progress
photo of the large mirror frame fully restored after re-modelling the intricate decorative mouldings
FInished Victorian over mantle mirror, awaiting new glass.