Paintings on canvas or panel – should they be framed with or without glass?


APRIL, 2018

I’m frequently asked to frame paintings on canvas or panel. Often clients aren’t aware that there are options other than (and better than) putting the painting behind glass.

Glass performs a vital function for a whole array of types of artwork and media. However, it’s not necessary, or even desirable, for all. Paintings on canvas or panel are generally better served by not being in glazed frames. For example, if a painting is heavily textured glass will not only prevent the viewer from fully appreciating the texture, but it could also damage the painting.

Straight in, unglazed

One option is to fit the canvas or panel painting into an unglazed frame.

If done well this is a very effective way of presenting the artwork. Care needs to be taken when settling on frame and finish to ensure the painting doesn’t appear boxed in and constricted. With the wrong frame the painting can appear as though it’s found itself stuck somewhere it oughtn’t to be and is struggling to get out. Viewing the painting can then be an uncomfortable rather than pleasurable experience.

However, with careful consideration given to the frame’s size and the finish that’s best for the painting, the result can be delightful. Oftentimes the bolder and chunkier the frame, the better. If a frame is going to insinuate itself in front of an oil painting then it may as well be bold about it.

This Michael Crowther oil on canvas is set beneath a 2” flat bare wood moulding that’s finished with gesso, bole that colour matches the yellow in the painting, and bronze leaf that’s been rubbed back.

If a painting is heavily textured glass will not only prevent the viewer from fully appreciating the texture, but it could also damage the painting.

Pop it in a tray frame…

An alternative would be a canvas or panel frame made from tray shaped moulding. Tray mouldings are specifically designed for canvas and panel.

The canvas or panel effectively sits in the tray. A narrow space is left between the edge of the painting and the inner edge of the frame. This space gives the painting the appearance of floating, providing room for the painting to breathe as it were. This prevents the artwork looking and feeling boxed in.

The tray and panel mouldings can be slim or chunky, shallow or deep. The dimensions are determined primarily by the depth of the canvas or panel, but also by what works best with the artwork, and ultimately by personal taste.

This Ciara Lewis painting is set into a bare wood tray frame. The frame is finished with wood stain mixed and applied to colour and grain match the furniture in the client’s home, and white gold leaf on the front and sides.

Framing paintings on canvas or panel without glass

As the two examples show, provided the framing is sympathetic and sensitivity is shown to the painting’s subject and style, the artwork is presented to its very best advantage.


Have something you’d like framed? Pop into my workshop in Canton, Cardiff, or get in touch.