Sunday, April 11, 2010

At Long Last, A Frame for Mr. Hackett

On Saturday afternoon Boy and I found ourselves in the nearby town where last weekend we had the good fortune to find the mirror for our drawing room, and we decided to test our luck and drop in on the same dealers to see what new inventory they had.  While there we found a pristine Sully frame from the 1830s that the dealers said they had purchased only the previous day at a country auction.

The Sully frame at the dealers where we found it
photo by Boy Fenwick

Our interest was peaked when we saw the frame because Boy and I have been looking for a more appropriate one for an ill-framed portrait that hangs over the fireplace in our dining room at Darlington House.  Our portrait, which was painted circa 1825, is supposedly of the Honorable Jacob Hotaling (1799-1873), who lived in the town where Darlington House is located, and who later became a prominent judge in New York State.  We bought the portrait from an antiques dealer in the nearby town a decade ago, framed in a later and somewhat bland looking frame, circa 1850-1860.

The Honorable Jacob Hotaling
artist unknown
photo by Boy Fenwick

We have always thought that the young Judge Hotaling's portrait would benefit from a more gutsy, period-appropriate frame, and have been on the lookout for one for the past several years.  The frame that we saw at the dealer on Saturday appeared to be just the ticket, and we put a "hold" on it so that we could go back to Darlington to see if it would fit our portrait, and also to determine whether it would look good in our dining room.

The hand written label on the back of our painting
photo by Boy Fenwick

Not only did we determine that the frame was perfectly sized for our portrait, and needed no alteration, but we also thought it would look perfect in our dining room with our other furnishings.

The Sully frame in our dining room
photo by Boy Fenwick

The frame we found is known in the trade as a Sully frame, named after the American artist Thomas Sully (1783-1872), and was popular in this country from 1820-1840.  Characterized by wide, inward slanting profiles and smooth gilded surfaces, Sully frames are most often seen on large, formal portraits.  According to the dealers where we found it, ours is an original, first-period Sully frame, and it retains its original lemon-yellow water gilding.

The Lady With Harp, Eliza Ridgely
painted by Thomas Sully, 1818
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

When we got it back to Darlington, the first thing that we did was take our portrait of Judge Hotaling off of the chinmney breast and prop it against one of the doors in our dining room.  We then rested the Sully frame on top of it to see how it looked.  Don't you think it is an improvement?  We think so--it enhances the painting better than the one that it had been framed with since we owned it.

The Honorable Jacob Hotaling, side by side
photographs by Boy Fenwick

Once we decided that the Sully frame was an improvement, we took the Judge's portrait out of its old frame and fitted it into the Sully frame. We then hung the painting above our dining room fireplace.  Don't you agree that it looks much better?

The reframed and rehung portrait
photo by Boy Fenwick

You may ask, why does the title of this essay refer to a Mr. Hackett?  It's because we think our Judge bears a strong resemblance to the Hollywood comedic actor Buddy Hackett (1924-2003).  In fact, we refer to our portrait as "Buddy", instead of as the Honorable Jacob Hotaling.

Separated at birth?
photo of the Honorable Jacob Hotaling by Boy Fenwick
unknown photographer of Buddy Hackett

And so I leave you with this image of the chimney breast in our dining room at Darlington, showing Judge Hotaling--I mean Buddy Hackett--in his new-and-much-improved frame.

photo by Boy Fenwick


  1. Very lovely indeed, Reggie. I do look forward to and enjoy learning from each of your blog posts. The Sully frame is very handsome and really does enhance your uncanny portrait of "Buddy." I also love the paint color on your wall. What is it?
    Thanks again for the inspiration!

  2. Great find! And vast improvement.


  3. Great find, and what good fortune to be able to re-frame Mr. Hackett yourselves. The Sully frame makes a terrific difference!

  4. It's wonderful - and a wonderful lesson in details making a difference. You know I'm green with envy over that basalt, right?

  5. That was indeed good fortune - to find an exact fit, and not only that a markedly improved frame for your picture, making it more "important". Like one of your other commentators, I too like the basalt pieces on the chimneypiece, which are offset very well by the yellow walls. I was successful at auction last night too. A "reveal" shortly...

  6. Mrs. M: Thank you, the yellow was custom mixed to match the original color of paint on the dining room's walls that we found when restoring the room.

    Mrs. B and Columnist: Thank you, basalt is an addiction, and we agree that it looks well against the yellow of the walls in the room.

  7. A terrific improvement; the frame's heft balances the judge's reputation as a leading citizen quite nicely.

  8. Well done- and dig that Wedgwood Basalt. Perfection achieved.

    I see that your firebox is covered by green shutters when not in use. I've never seen this done before. Very clever.

  9. Magnus: I am working on an essay on our fireboards that I shall be posting in the coming weeks--good catch!

  10. Sister and Aesthete: Thank you, I am heartened that you both approve.

  11. The framing for the portrait is perfect and I also love your basalt collection. Look forward to hearing more on fireboards.

    Art by Karena

    I have a fascinating interview with artist Robert Anders up on my site.

  12. Buddy looks much happier in his new home, although I thought he looked lovely in his old home as well.

    Fireboards are fairly common here, I've never seen shuttered boards before - fantastic!

  13. Reggie,
    The new frame is perfect. You've done well by
    the judge and the comedian.

  14. The exhilaration of finding just the right thing is made all the better when you are able to unite two things that by all justice belong together, as you have done with these. The portrait DOES look better in that frame. Good job ! They work together so well, and from all accounts seem to be from nearly the same geography .... Wouldn't it be exciting if they started out life together ? I once reunited a pair of early 19th century brass candlesticks, having purchased them eight months apart, both as singlets (and therefore bargain-priced), from a dealer not known for the organization of his warehouse. Entropy averted.
    Best -
    - Mike in SC

  15. Kerena, Barbara, Bumby, Ptsy, and Mike: Thanks!


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