Emilie Cohen, a fine arts conservator and owner of Emilie Cohen Studios in Lawrenceville, stopped by Wednesday to explain the fine art of gilding, the labor-intensive, meticulous process by which a plain surface such as a picture frame is given a luxe finish of glittering gold.
A museum may be the safest place of all to hold precious artworks, but time can be just as harmful to cherished objects of all kinds. And when time takes its toll, it’s the job of the art conservator to make things better.
The exhibit “Your Art Needs You!,” at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, features 179 works from the museum’s permanent collection that each needs a little tender loving care.
How do you know if an antique frame is an original or a reproduction?
In a nutshell sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t! It’s a great challenge for antique dealers to authenticate a piece of furniture. With frames, it can be a bit easier. Besides the style of the moulding and the finish, one of the first things to do is look at the back side of a frame. Joinery techniques have differed over the centuries. The age of the wood will be apparent as well. Something that has survived for at least 100 years looks a bit different than something made ten years ago.
Difference between Gold Leaf and Imitation Gold Leaf.
“All that glitters is not gold” and it is the master gilder who makes visible the difference between an object covered with gold paint, imitation gold leaf and 22 or 23-karat gold leaf. Sometimes it take s a little detective work and sometimes it can be very apparent.
Glossy topcoats can cover a gold painted surface, which might be mistaken for the real thing. Often gold paint can be detected by looking for brush marks, dullness of the surface color or pigments which can be seen with a magnifier.
Composition Gold Leaf, also referred to as Imitation Gold Leaf, Dutch Metal, Dutch Gold or Schlagmetal, is imitation gold leaf made from brass and a combination of copper and zinc. Composition Leaf will tarnish and requires a protective sealer upon completion of gilded surface. Once it becomes oxidized it has a uniformly dull and green cast.
Actually, any leaf with a karat below 22 has to be sealed to prevent tarnishing. 22-karat and above will never tarnish. It will always retain its shine. The top coatings that are used on objects gilded within 22 or 23-karat are to achieve an aesthetically pleasing finish. The finishes, in tandem with the shape of the object, allow the gilder to “play with light.” The high points are the areas that catch the light and direct the viewers eye to looking at the piece, whether it be a frame, piece of furniture, or even architectural flourishes in a room.
A friend once said, “Real gold speaks to you.” I have found that if I place two objects in front of someone- one with 22-karat and one with Dutch metal, I don’t even have to say anything. One hundred percent of the time, a person with no training will be drawn to the beauty and warmth of the real thing.