05 February 2011

Baguettes et passe-partout(s)

A couple of days ago Walt and I drove over to Montrichard because we had a piece of artwork and a poster that we wanted to have framed. It was a successful (though expensive) trip and we learned some new technical terms in the process.

Do you know what the mat (or matte) is called in French? You know, the cardboard "inner frame" that you put around the picture, inside the wooden or metal frame? It keeps the glass from touching the artwork inside the frame.

A frame shop in Paris

From the dictionary, under "mat" or "matte": "A decorative border placed around a picture to serve as a frame or provide contrast between the picture and the frame." In French it's called a « passe-partout ». I guess the meaning comes from the fact that you can put a mat of the size you want to make the piece you are framing fit in standard-size frames. It can "go anywhere."

Oh, and the mat can have a beveled edge — « un biseau » — to give it an even more finished look. The bevel can be in a color that contrasts with or matches the mat and the artwork.

This isn't exactly the poster I'm having framed, but it gives the idea.

We have a poster that is a map of the Loire Valley vineyards that we wanted to have mounted on a board. Glued on. We didn't necessarily want it framed and put under glass. "Mounting" in this sense in French is « encollage ». That makes sense, but I probably would have talked about « collage ». I guess that's another technique entirely.

And at the framing shop we saw a sign saying that the standard cost of « montage » was 15 euros. « Montage » doesn't mean "mounting" but framing. It means putting the frame together.

And guess what the frame itself, or the framing material, is called. It's called « la baguette »! And no, it's not made of bread. « Baguette » means "wand" or a thin strip of, usually, wood. A baguette of the kind you have with your lunch is a "wand" of bread. An orchestra conductor conducts with a « baguette » in France. And you eat Chinese food with baguettes — chopsticks. A witch or wizard wouldn't be complete without a baguette magique.

For the poster/map of the Loire Valley vineyards, which I bought five or six years ago in Paris, I ended up asking for it to be mounted on a « support » — a board — and framed. Not under glass, but under non-reflective plexiglass, sans passe-partout. That way, we'll be able point at the different places around our area and run our fingers over the map without worrying about getting it dirty.

The other piece is an original piece of artwork that Walt's cousin did. It will be framed avec passe-partout, under non-reflective glass — verre anti-reflets.

P.S. CHM, I'm not sure what the plural of passe-partout should be. Robert says the term is invariable. But French web sites I find spell the plural as I did in my title. Everybody, the rules for forming the plurals of compound nouns in French are quite complex.


  1. My cousin's work is actually a signed print, not the original painting. You can see it here.

  2. Knowing, or rather not knowing a language is endlessly fascinating. I did know that the cardboard was called a pass-partout in French but had no idea it was called a mat (or matte) in English. In fact I've always used the French word for want of any other and I'm a native English speaker LOL!

  3. Niall, I think you British speakers use a lot more French terms in English than we do. Aubergines, courgettes, and all, instead of eggplants and zucchinis. I got the impression from the Collins-Robert dictionary that the term passe-partout is used in GB English. In the U.S., it's called a mat.

  4. Since I don't speak French but recently read "Around the World in 80 days," I learned something else from your post. Phileas Fogg's servant and fellow-traveler on the journey is a Frenchman named Passepartout. I always thought that was just a French name, but now I know better.

  5. Very usefull Ken, thanks... we've still got some pictures to get framed! When I was young, many moons ago, one could get passe-partout paper [Butterfly Brand] which was a different thing entirely. I was to wrap the edges of the glass and the picture support [be it card, wood, or in the case of magic-lantern slides, another piece of glass.]
    Our picture framer in the UK called a mat a mat!

  6. I think we should go by Robert's advice. Partout is an adverb and consequently is neither masculine or feminine nor is it singular or plural. It is invariable, and so should be the compound word. If you use a noun, e.g. droit, then you can have un passe-droit and des passe-droits.

    Since the advent of the electric typewriter and computer keyboards, there are more typos floating around than there are words

    Did you ever frame that original drawing by my grandfather I gave you a few years ago?

  7. I like that poster/map you show here... but that's not the one you're having framed, eh? Is it one of area vineyards or wine-growing areas, though?

    I knew none of this vocab today (well, except baguette in its other uses:), so thanks!


    p.s. French help from anyone?: My niece asked me this... can anyone clarify? "if "d'ici une semaine" is "within a week" then does "d'ici huit jours" work?" (my note: I would have thought the first one meant, "a week from now"... would the second work to say, "8 days from now"?)

  8. Judy,
    A week from now would be, d'aujourd'hui en huit. D'ici huit jours means only within a week, as in within a week I'll give you my answer or je vous donnerai ma réponse d'ici huit jours. If you want to answer later, as in 8 days from now, you would say je vous donnerai ma réponse dans une semaine ou d'aujourd'hui en huit.

  9. Oh, chm, thanks so much for that clarification :))

  10. I think a passe-partout is what Tim describes, a way to fix the glass to the cardboard beneath the picture, usually with some paper tape glued to the glass and the cardboard. And that way it doesn't need to be framed.

    What Ken is talking about is a Marie-Louise, i.e. a piece of cardboard with a window, beveled or not, that frame the pictures and isolate it from the glass. Then the Marie-Louise and the picture are framed as usual.

    Now for the plural of Marie-Louise, I have no idea. But I suggest des Maries-Louises until someone tells me it is invariable. The beauty of the French language! LOL

  11. And I knew passe-partout in the sense of American English "skeleton key". Read lots of Agatha Christie in French in the 70's.

  12. I love the baguette meanings and I guarantee I thing of this post the next time I pass a boulangerie.

  13. The things we learn here! :)


  14. CHM, the woman running the Encadrements boutique in Montrichard didn't show anything she called a marie-louise, she just showed us the passe-partout(s). They were definitely what we call mats (or mattes, to be fancy about it) in the U.S. And they are the same thing shown on the web site I linked to at the end of my post.

    Oh, I see in the Robert dictionary that a marie-louise is a kind of passe-partout:

    MARIE-LOUISE [maRilwiz] n. f.

    - Passe-partout fixé sur le bord intérieur d'un cadre. Marie-louise biseautée, à gorge. Des maries-louises. — Encadrement constitué par une bordure en harmonie avec la couleur dominante d'une image (affiche, etc.).

    Cheryl, yes, pass keys.

    Judy, huit jours means one week. I don't know why. And quinze jours means two weeks, a fortnight, as I'm sure you know. Strange but true. Mardi en huit means not this Tuesday but a week from this Tuesday, or “Tuesday week” as we say in N.C. and they say in England.

  15. Still learning — look at this from French Wiki:

    « La marie-louise est une sorte de cadre intermédiaire placé entre une œuvre encadrée sans vitre (en général, une peinture sur toile ou autre support), et le cadre proprement dit. [...]

    Il ne faut pas confondre la marie-louise avec le passe-partout, qui est un carton épais destiné à une œuvre encadrée sous une vitre protectrice (aquarelle, dessin, estampe, photographie, etc.) afin d'isoler l'œuvre du contact direct avec la vitre. Le passe-partout est découpé aux dimensions de la vitre et vient s'insérer à l'intérieur du cadre, avec une fenêtre découpée également en biseau correspondant à l'image visible. »

    So the mat I'm talking about is a passe-partout — it will be under glass. I'm not sure what to call a marie-louise in English. This is all fairly technical, anyway.

  16. Bonsoir

    Yep, it's difficult to find an English equivalent for une marie-louise... Otherwise, here is a pic of a "marie-louise" :


    But I've found another meaning for "des "Marie-louise" : young soldiers in Napoléon's army, look :

    "Les Marie-Louise est le nom donné aux conscrits des classes 1814 et 1815 appelés par anticipation en 1813 par décret de l'impératrice-régente Marie-Louise d'Autriche et sur ordre de son époux, Napoléon Bonaparte en raison des campagnes menées par celui-ci en Russie."

    Du fait de leur jeunesse, la plupart étaient encore imberbes, d'où ce sobriquet féminin. Ils étaient donc novices dans l'art de la guerre mais ne manquaient toutefois pas de courage, entourés par des vétérans de la Grande Armée. Napoléon Bonaparte obtint avec eux les victoires notamment de Champaubert et Montmirail


    Bises from Normandy !


  17. Hi Ken,
    Thanks! I have just been searching for info about this topic for a while and yours is the best I have found out so far.



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