Dinner Guest: David Mandel of House of Heydenryk


David Mandel, President of House of Heydenryk

Founded in Amsterdam in 1845, the House of Heydenryk is one of the world’s oldest and most respected frame makers and dealers of antique frames. David Mandel, the current president, has over thirty years of experience in high end framing. David has lectured and taught classes at and for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fashion Institute of Technology, Fairfield University and many private art groups. David advises and selects frames for the nation’s top auction houses, galleries, museums, interior designers, architects and collectors, and he has traveled internationally as a consultant for the House of Heydenryk. He regularly frames major collections from every period in art history and in all mediums, dating from the early Renaissance to the 21st century

Louis Postel: Tell me about some of the people coming through these doors.

David Mandel: Here in Chelsea, or back when we were on the Upper East Side?

LP: Either.

Two original Heydenryk mirror designs

DM: One day, when I was at the front desk back on 76th Street, Katharine Hepburn came in. She asked me if I could give her our founder Henry Heydenryk’s home address (he was retired and living in Connecticut), as she wanted to pay him a visit as a friend. I forgot all about it, just thinking it was one of those kind gestures no one actually follows through with. But one morning, Mr. Heydenryk (pronounced Hi-den-rike) was relaxing inside and looking out his window, when all of a sudden she appeared, standing in the garden.

LP: What about Lauren Bacall?

DM: She said, “If I were a frame, there’s no place I’d rather hang than on the wall at the House of Heydenryk.” Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich – actresses known for a great sense of style – were clients. We also framed for the Kennedy White House.

LP: What about artists?

Salvador Dali with founder Henry Heydenryk, 1958

DM: Salvador Dalí, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Fernand Léger, Andrew Wyeth and many others. We designed frames for Picasso’s first postwar exhibits in the U.S. They all liked working with Mr. Heydenryk. Many other artists followed, along with such leading interior designers as Sister Parish and Albert Hadley.

LP: What was Dalí looking for in frames?

DM: Some artists or dealers just hand a piece over and say, “You know what I like.” Dalí, however, was very particular, very conscious about how he wanted his work framed. He knew a lot about frame history, especially about 17th century Baroque frames, but he also liked the new designs and finishes Mr. Heydenryk was coming up with. Occasionally, Dalí would purchase a period frame and ask us to adjust it to fit his artwork.

LP: Let’s put it another way: Who didn’t you work with?

DM: Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Though we eventually framed a Rothko and stretched a Pollock canvas, Abstract Expressionists often thought of the wall as the frame. Even now, when we do frame his work, it’s very simple, usually in neutrals, black or white. You don’t want a frame that’s too ornate, that would somehow compete. In fact, all frames should take that supporting role, where the painting is the focus. With few exceptions, you shouldn’t notice the frame before the art.

Lempicka in Heydenryk Concentric Deco frame (right), Swiss Modernist Agnes Cleve painting in Gothic Breughel frame (left)

LP: Speaking of mismatches, do you really need The House of Heydenryk to do a minimalist black frame?

DM: Indeed, from 40 feet away, a black frame looks opaque and you won’t notice the difference, but closer up, you can see the grain and the quality of the finish. When you see these options in person, there’s no obvious solution.

Heydenryk-factory-shotsLP: Where do you make your frames?

DM: Our Chelsea workshop is on the same floor, adjacent to our showroom. This is great for quality control, as we can oversee and modify our designs in close proximity. If a client requests an alteration with a frame, we can often do so during his/her visit instead of having to ship the frame to a distant, out-of-town factory.

LP: Can I assume they get knocked off routinely?

DM: Sure, whether intentionally or not. Even in museums, where you can see so many of our designs on the paintings, you can also see frames that are either direct copies or highly influenced by what we do. It’s a kind of flattery, I guess.

LP: How has the business itself changed over the years?

Heydenryk-frames-toolsDM: It has changed in a variety of ways. Years ago, many of the artisans were classically trained. They could reproduce and restore, but they also had backgrounds in the history of architecture, fine arts and drawing. Though I can’t generalize, there’s a tendency now to be more oriented toward manual skills and pure craftsmanship. We had a great master carver here for many years. His father was also a great carver. Now his son is a doctor. Also, with the advent of digital technology, we frequently use Photoshop frame mock-ups to show our clients how different designs – both new and antique – will look around their artworks. This enables us to work with clientele on an international basis.

Degas Concentric, French, Late 19th century. 3 1/2″ wide, 22K gold leaf, hand shaped. Impressionist Edgar Degas (1834- 1917), in addition to being a great painter, was also a creative frame maker who regularly designed profiles for his own work. He usually preferred painted finishes to gold leaf, and this concentric frame was a forerunner to similar Deco step mouldings made in the 1920s and 1930s.

Whereas we still pride ourselves on using Old World materials and methods, we also utilize more cost effective techniques, such as casting compo and foam molds, instead of carving by hand. We also continue to have excellent craftsmen and finishers. Take gilding. There are different gold leafing techniques – oil gilding and water gilding – but it all has to be done by hand. There’s a luminosity and quality that you cannot get with a machine-made finish.

LP: Do you make house calls or do people come in?

DM: Both. I advise clients on framing in our showroom as well as make onsite visits or “house calls.” I have also traveled outside of the U.S. for framing projects.

Cubist painting in original frame, design by David Mandel

LP: Tell me about Henry Heydenryk, Jr.

DM: He was the great grandson of the founder, but he didn’t want to go into the business at first. He was working for Remington Rand (1925-1955) as a punch card salesman and liked it. Finally, the family prevailed upon him to open a branch in the U.S., which he did in the ’30s – but on his own terms. His designs, such as the weathered chestnut frames, revolutionized the business.


LP: Are you a Heydenryk yourself?

DM: No. Actually I’m the second non-family member to become president of the firm since it was founded in Amsterdam in 1845. I grew up in New York and studied at the School of Visual Arts at a time when artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat were either attending or visiting.

LP: Any relation to Steven Mandel, the publisher of ASPIRE?

DM: No, but it’s always nice to meet a fellow Mandel.

Nine original Heydenryk Modernist frame designs

LP: What do you have on your walls?

DM: It’s pretty eclectic: original works by artists I knew and framed for (Moura Chabor, Mark Innerst), watercolors by my wife’s grandmother Elvira Reilly who exhibited at The Whitney and of course, loads of empty or mirrored vintage frames. They stand on their own as works of art.

Restoration of a Spanish Colonial frame.

Righty or lefty? Righty.
Favorite food? Asian fusion.
Favorite local restaurant? Cucharamama in Hoboken, NJ.
Best music to eat by? Miles & Mozart.
Prefer intimate dinners or large gatherings? Intimate all the way.
If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be? Leonardo da Vinci, Dorothy Parker & Groucho Marx.

De Kooning in Reshaped Bronzino frame

Traditionalist or modernist at heart? Both. I respect and am inspired by tradition, but I also try to learn and create for the present and the future.
Favorite cologne? I abstain.
Favorite era? Either the High Renaissance or the 20th century from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Bow ties or neckties? Neckties, but not too tight.

More designs, photos, and information can be found on the company website: www.heydenryk.com. Enjoy!

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