Reverse Paintings on GlassBy

Reverse Paintings
on Glass

Handpainted reproductions from China

Reverse paintings on glass that imitate early American and Victorian styles have been reproduced. The paintings are done by hand in China and distributed in the United States by gift and antique reproduction wholesalers. If you deal or collect authentic paintings, you can probably identify these new pieces by technique, paint colors and artistic skill. But for many of us, the easiest way to detect them is by examining the frames they come in and the glass they're painted on.

The largest source of the paintings, an eastern antique reproduction wholesaler, offers 36 different images in two sizes-- 9 x 6 1/4" and 16 x 12". All are mounted in wooden oval frames with a matching oval wood backing board and all come with a distinctive brass hanger (Figs. 1, & 7-10). The wood frames are stained a deep reddish-brown mahogany and have a satin lacquer finish. This style of frame in these specific sizes with these particular hangers should be considered as proofs of recent manufacture.

Another easy test for age is to look carefully at the glass the image is painted on. From about 1800 to about 1903, all sheet glass was made by first blowing a large glass cylinder which was then split and flattened into sheets by hand. Since the entire process of blowing and flattening was done by hand, glass sheets made this way always have the irregularities characteristic of hand work.

That's why genuine old sheet glass has a wavy uneven surface, random bubbles within the glass and often contains unmelted bits of debris or sand. The new sheet glass the reproduced paintings are on is virtually flawless. Why? Because the glass was rolled with precision on modern sheet making machines, not made by hand.

Logically, if a painting is represented as having been made in the middle of the 19th century, the glass it is painted on would have to be of the same time period and show the natural flaws of glass from that period.

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Fig. 1

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Fig. 2

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Fig. 3

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Fig. 4

Figs. 1-4 The majority of the new paintings are mounted in the frame shown in Fig. 1; another wholesaler offers similar paintings in the style of frame in Fig. 3. New paintings might be mounted in authentic old frames so check the glass the image is on. All the subjects in the paintings have oval shaped Asiatic eyes with pointed ends. This characteristic varied from piece to piece as would be expected in hand work. It is most obvious in Figs. 4 and 5, less noticeable in Fig. 2. If a painting is represented as 19th century American, make sure the subject has the proper facial features.

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Fig. 5

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Fig. 6

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Fig. 7

Figs. 5-7 Another example of Asiatic eyes in Fig. 5 taken from the painting in Fig. 6. The majority of the new frames come with solid wood back panels as shown in Fig. 7. The panels are fastened to the frames with small modern flathead nails. The side of the back that faces away from the painting is stained to match the front of the frame.

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Fig. 8

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Fig. 9

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Fig. 10

Figs. 8-10 The boards covering the backs of the new frames are finished on one side only; the side facing the painting is shown in Fig. 8. A close up of the distinctive brass hanger used on the majority of the new reverse paintings appears in Fig. 9. These hangers are attached to the frame with special U-shaped brass pins shown in Fig. 10.

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Fig. 11

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Fig. 12

Figs. 11-12 The major wholesaler of these paintings offers a choice of 36 different images. Most subjects are women done in an early American or Victorian style (Fig. 11). All subjects are available in two sizes-- 9 x 6 1/4" and 16 x 12". Wholesale prices were $15 for the smaller size; $22 for the larger size. A removable "Made in China" paper label is in on the paintings when they arrive from the wholesaler (Fig. 12). These new reverse paintings were also used as the top panel in covered boxes.