The Art of Water Gilding

May 3, 2019

Frame Minnesota, Eagan MN Supplier Larson-Juhl: The Art of Water Gilding

Our very talented and creative supplier Larson-Juhl shows us the art of an extremely unique and special frame manufacturing process called Water Gilding. Mesmerizing!



  • What water gilding is
  • Water gilding is an art, passed down for generations
  • The process is performed by hand
  • Each piece has its own unique look
  • Frames become masterpieces to enhance your piece

Here is the transcription from The Art of Water Gilding;

The art of water gilding. Water gilding is an ancient method of applying gold leaf to a surface, creating a unique, luminous finish. The art of water gilding is a tradition passed down by talented artisans for generations. For over a century, the artisans at Larson-Juhl in Northern France have used traditional 16th Century Renaissance gilding materials and techniques.
These artisans apprentice for five years learning the many steps in the process before becoming professional frame gilders, who create some of the world’s most exquisite water gilded frames.


The process begins with a perfectly shaped profile milled from first quality, kiln-dried wood. After the wood is milled, a liquid gesso mixture is applied in 10 layers to create a clean, smooth surface. For designs with decorative ornamentation, a soft dough-like material called compo is embossed using a carved steel wheel, which is pressed into the compo to create a pattern that is carefully laid by hand. Next, three coats of liquid clay, called bole are brushed over the gesso and compo to prepare the surface for gilding.


The clay is dampened with a water mixture and thin sheets of gold or silver leaf are applied by hand. Each leaf is gilded next to the previous one with a slight overlap. These overlap marks show that each separate piece has been laid by hand in the traditional manner. Once the gilding is dry it is hand burnished, allowing the gold to reveal its full reflective beauty. An agate stone is used to burnish the leaf to a luminous sheen and accent the overlapping leaf lines, creating the distinctive look of hand-crafted water gilded frames.

An artisan may choose to burnish only some parts of the frame to create contrast between reflective and matte surfaces. Rubbing the gilded surface with pumice and steel wool gently reveals the subtle tones of the colored clay, which was applied earlier. Some frames are only slightly rubbed for a modern look, and others are made to look centuries old by distressing, carefully scratching and chipping the surface finish. Two coats of varnish are then hand applied to tone and protect the gilding. Finally a liquid patina is applied and gently wiped to enhance the burnished gold accents, which are absolutely unique to water gilded frames.

Water gilded frames from Larson-Juhl are an extraordinary combination of artistry, tradition, and design. They have been created to frame items of value from museum masterpieces to artwork and objects of deep personal meaning. Preserving memories from the past, creating heirlooms for the future, commemorating important life events. Larson-Juhl, adding artistry to art.


Check out the show notes below for resource links, guides, and a link to watch the episode in video format!


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