NEW YORK, Dec. 19, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- It's every treasure hunter's dream: an overlooked artwork bought for less than $10,000 in 2006 sells in a record-smashing Christie's auction for $450 million in 2017. The colorful, controversial path of Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Christ as Savior of the World, Salvator Mundi, shines a spotlight on a little-known area within the fine arts world: conservation, restoration, framing and presentation. Julius Lowy Frame and Restoring Company, the nation's oldest and largest fine arts services firm, drew on the company's 110 years of expertise in mounting the masterwork in a stunning 16th century Italian frame to optimize the image's beauty and its artistic and economic value.
Behind every prized Rembrandt or revered Modigliani lies a hidden circle of experts and artisans who blend antique materials, science, cutting-edge technology and Old-World skills to preserve, nurture and enhance these cultural treasures. In the case of the lost Leonardo, skilled restoration and masterful framing and presentation helped catalyze the transformation from unrecognizable to $450 million, highlighting the critical importance and value that world-class collectors, museums, galleries and auction houses are assigning to frames, conservation and restoration.
"We try to bring our own sense of artistry to the world's great masterpieces," says Larry Shar, the second of three generations of family owners at Lowy. "When I first opened the box and saw the Leonardo, I was in awe," Shar recalls. After extensive study, consultation and discussion, Shar selected a 16th century Tuscan gilded cassetta (small box) frame with a beauty and majesty all its own. "Stylistically, the cassetta encases Christ in such a way as to make him appear celestial and divine," Shar says. "The patina is crucially important—the color of the frame has the soft, rubbed-down black that's not opaque. The pièce de résistance is the gilded elements of the frame; they illuminate the lighter portions of the painting, such as the face, hands and the orb." The result, Shar says, is a striking marriage of painting and frame that is "close to perfection."
Robert Simon, a prominent da Vinci expert and one of the previous owners of Salvator Mundi, invested considerable time and care in seeking the perfect setting. "I looked all over Europe for the ideal antique Italian frame for this painting, but… [it was] right under my nose here in New York," Simon notes of the owners' collaboration with Lowy. The search adds to the masterwork's intriguing history as a long-lost treasure and its status as the last known da Vinci work in private hands.
Since the firm's founding in 1907, Lowy has worked with a wealth of priceless works by masters including Rembrandt, Monet, van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso and Chagall. In recent years, Lowy created a custom frame for Picasso's The Nightclub Singer, a nude portrait from the artist's Blue Period that sold at a Sotheby's auction for more than $67 million in 2015. Lowy specialists restored the frame on a version of Edvard Munch's iconic The Scream, which fetched nearly $120 million on Sotheby's auction block. Salvator Mundi is the first da Vinci work that Lowy has handled, as fewer than 20 of the Renaissance master's works have been authenticated worldwide.
The Cinderella of the Art World
Antique frames have been the Cinderella of the fine art world in recent years, doing a tremendous amount of work with little appreciation of their intrinsic beauty, rarity and value. "It's a conversation between the framer and the artist that has so often been neglected," Shar says. Similarly, museum-quality art conservation demands high levels of technical skill and artistic knowledge for a discipline that is all but invisible to the viewer admiring the restored image.
Shar believes that attitudes toward framing and conservation are evolving. "We're seeing more intellectual, sophisticated buyers with true passion for art and art history influencing this trend," he says. "It also may be that these high-end buyers are more confident in their own tastes, and more eclectic and diverse in their collections."
Today, rare frames are being appreciated as fine art in their own right, and have been featured in dedicated exhibits at noted museums and galleries around the globe. "Instead of being diminished or destroyed by the passage of time, frames, like fine wines are enhanced by maturity," writes Deborah Davis, author of The Secret Lives of Frames: One Hundred Years of Art and Artistry. "Age seasons their color, adds character to their composition, and increases their value. Even tiny wormholes suggest that history has been at work, marking the passage of time."
Julius Lowy Frame and Restoring Company, founded in New York City 1907, is the country's leading fine arts services firm. Lowy offers fine art conservation and restoration services; an extensive collection of antique frames; reproductions and modern frames; and comprehensive curatorial services. The firm's staff of highly educated professional art conservation and frame consultants serve private collectors, art advisors, museum curators, auction houses, galleries, architects, interior designers and artists around the globe. For more information, please visit www.lowy1907.com.