Frampton was an exact contemporary of Aubrey Beardsley, and they both gained their formal education at Brighton Grammar School, Frampton then attended the Westminster School of Art before working for seven years for his father, a maker of stained glass. He was to be involved with this medium until 1918, and it left an indelible impression on his schematic and decorative style. He was also much influenced by the early Italian and Flemish masters, as well as by Puvis de Chavannes and Burne-Jones. He travelled extensively in Italy and France, and was profoundly moved by the Burne-Jones retrospective and memorial exhibitions that took place at the New Gallery in the 1890s.
With such an artistic background, it is hardly surprising that Frampton specialised in mural painting, carrying out many schemes in churches, often as war memorials, as well as secular projects. As an easel painter he was primarily concerned with religious and symbolist themes, but, like so many artists of his generation, as these went out of fashion he turned increasingly to landscape, finding subjects in Sussex, Cumberland, the Channel Islands, Brittany and the Bernese Oberland. Living for many years in Brook Green, West Kensington, he exhibited at the Royal Academy and was a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Royal Society of British Artists, the Tempera Society and the Art Workers' Guild. He also had a one-man exhibition at the Baillie Gallery, 13 Bruton Street, Mayfair, in 1914. He died suddenly in Paris in November 1923 at the age of fifty-one, and is buried in the cemetery of Saint-Germain.
Frampton painted the subject of the Annunciation twice. The first version, an oil of almost square format which was sold in these Rooms on 15 December 1972, dated from before 1907, when it was illustrated in the Art Journal. The present version is some years later, being exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1915. Both interpretations echo Burne-Jones's account of the subject (fig. 1), first exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1879 and included in both the New Gallery shows that made such an impact on Frampton as a young man.
However, the two pictures also represent a change of style, the 1907 version being rich in colour and romantic in sentiment while the present version is relatively cool in tone and austere in mood. It evokes comparison with The Gothic Tower (fig. 2), a slightly earlier work, shown at the Royal Academy in 1913, that was offered in these Rooms in June 1993. Both pictures are narrow upright compositions, and both make great play with gothic tracery. In The Gothic Tower this motif remains within the picture space, covering the eponymous building itself. In The Annunciation it moves into 'real' space, dominating the design of the frame into which the picture is set like a stained-glass window in a gothic building or an enamel in some precious reliquary.
The comparison sheds considerable light on the genesis of our picture. It strongly suggests that Frampton designed the frame himself, seeking to unite it with the image in a way that distinctly resembles the more pictorial fusion of figures and architecture in The Gothic Tower. It also points to the ultimate source for this ensemble. The Gothic Tower is clearly indebted to Jan van Eyck's St Barbara in the Antwerp Museum. A tower, of course, is the traditional emblem of St Barbara, who is said to have been imprisoned in one by her father to protect her from importunate suitors. Van Eyck shows her seated in front of the building in course of construction, and Frampton modifies this idea, retaining the tower but replacing the Saint by figures of the Virgin and Child. In The Annunciation he goes one further, making the whole work into a gothic tower-like structure with associated figures. Indeed so far has he moved from his original source that if the picture was seen in insolation, a connection with the Van Eyck might seem far-fetched. With The Gothic Tower as a link, however, it can be convincingly demonstrated.