Get the hang of displaying art at home
There’s more to hanging a collection of pictures than meets the eye
Wall colour has a real impact on a painting. Photograph: Getty
Hanging works of art can prove such a chore that some paintings are relegated to storage for long periods, and in many ways the way a piece is hung is indeed an art form in itself. While there are some rules, some of the most interesting wall arrangements are unexpected, playful and inventive.
It is generally accepted that a work of art should meet eye level – hence the centre of the work should be 57 inches (1.4m) off the floor – and this is the standard used in museums, though Le Corbusier insisted his works be hung at 72 inches (1.83m) from the floor to the top of the painting. Hanging a painting too high is one of the greatest mistakes according to some galleries as the artwork is out of the natural line of sight. But that is not to say a painting over a doorframe cannot be effective.
For a painting to have an impact, it needs to be of a decent size against the proportion of wall it sits upon. Having too small an artwork on a large wall, means the neutral space can suck up the art – where it gets lost in a sea of background. There are some other rules of thumb too – for instance, one that suggests a painting on a wall behind a sofa should take up two-thirds the width of the sofa and sit 8 inches above it – to achieve a natural symmetry. But it is all a matter of personal choice.
A current trend, which actually dates from 18th century Paris, is that of gallery walls, with a mixture of paintings and prints – all hung with minimal space between the works. This is a clever way to hang in “salon style” if your collection is a mélange of flea market and gallery buys, as the focus is on a collection rather than individual pieces, but this in itself is one of the trickiest displays to get right as it is all about balance.
No matter how good a painting is, the wrong frame can have a negative impact on the work it surrounds. Jessica Callanan, who has been framing for two decades at Baggot Framing, says there is a move away from all white frames: “There is a current demand for contemporary gold and bronze frames – due to the fact that people are using deep indigos and dark emerald paints on their walls – so these metals sit well with them.” For families with dogs and children, a good option to consider, if a work is particularly special, is the use of museum grade glass, which is essentially bulletproof.
Issues to watch out for, according to Ian Whyte of auctioneers Whyte's, whose family has been in the art business for over two centuries, are light and temperature. “As some works are affected by light; prints, drawings, watercolours and photographs must be kept out of direct sunlight, whereas oils and acrylics are fine. One can use a glass over the work that protects the piece from UV light, but these can tend to dull a painting. High temperatures can also affect a painting – especially those over a radiator or un-insulated fireplace mantle, as the heat will crack the artwork.”
Laying out your collection on the floor is a good place to start when trying to establish which pieces work together. Whyte recommends keeping art in timelines – coupling contemporary works with a similar age and style, while contrasting works can also be effective. Laying works against furniture, especially for modern pieces, can add dimension to your vignettes.
When it comes to wall colour, which has a real impact on a painting, Whyte points out that the National Gallery on Merrion Square uses blue-grey tones on the walls behind the Northern European artists, whereas warmer sienna tones act as a backdrop to southern artists, echoing climates the artists worked in.
At IMMA, the hanging of art and indeed the backdrop colour is only part of the experience, according to Rachel Thomas, head of exhibitions and senior curator. “We need to create an experience; how the works are seen as art but also on emotional and intellectual levels, in addition to security and humidity.” Her MA in Museology led her to work with David Hockney on a “space to create” and how it impacts with the audience.
The current exhibitions at IMMA include the incredible work of Irish artist Mary Swanzy (1882-1978). The backdrop of her cubist work sits on a pale pink backdrop which contrasts completely with the silver and black works of photographer Wolfgang Tillmans – the first photographer to win the Turner Prize.
His work, though appearing to hang at random, was in fact the result of months of collaboration with his team and three-dimensional models of the gallery. Perhaps hanging art, like Tillmans’s own words on his photography, “is a constant negotiation between chance and control”.
Art sets the tone in a room more than any other furnishing, where one can sit and admire a loved piece and, in the end, if it is not pleasing to the eye, it is easily rearranged. So get the artwork out and get hanging.