My husband and I are both art collectors. My husband, Nicholas Coleman, is an artist and pours over deceased painters’ works of art to gain inspiration and technique. He also really enjoys collecting their work (if he can get his hands on any) as well as his contemporaries. It has become an important part of his job. As an artist he is continually striving to become a better artist. Being inspired is crucial. Naturally he finds work from various sources (more on that in a later post) and trades with other artists. Because of this collection I am continually searching for ways to display the art in a personal and meaningful way. Displaying art in a gallery wall, or as my husband calls it, a salon wall, is a perfect way to showcase the art and have fun with it at the same time.
The modern day gallery wall originated from the Paris Salon. The Salon was the official art exhibit of the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1748-1890. It became well known as the greatest annual art event in the Western world. The Salon exhibited paintings floor-to-ceiling utilizing every available inch of wall space. Artists would submit their work hoping to get it into the Salon. It was alone a huge honor to be chosen to hang in the salon and absolutely crucial for a struggling artist to gain recognition and sell their work. Placement was everything as well. Depending on where your painting was would determine who and how many people would see your work.
The Paris Salon become so famous that many artist depicted it in their own paintings.
Today we see so many different ways to do a Salon wall, and in my opinion there are not many ways you can go wrong. But, just in case your worried, here are some steps to making the perfect salon wall.
Step 1. Play with a theme. This is not absolutely necessary in building a salon wall, but it is a fun way to show a collection and make it look like one body of art. For example: I love how this salon wall is exclusively portraits. It makes such a dramatic statement. Don’t you think?
Here’s an example of a bird themed salon wall that my husband and I put together. My husband loves to paint birds and collect bird art. He has quite a collection of bird paintings. More on this salon wall later in the post.
Step 2. When in doubt measure it out. I’m actually not one for measuring at all (the secrets out!). I usually use my eye and, for the most part, it doesn’t fail me. But if you’re unsure I would measure the spacing from each frame top to bottom and side to side. If you are doing a grid like I did below with the Josef Frank wallpaper samples I recommend MEASURING EVERYTHING! If it is off by a little you will notice. This is easy to do when all the frames are the the same size. First determine the spacing you would like from each frame. I chose 2 inches top and bottom. I then measured the center of the wall and hung the center most painting (the yellow and blue fish wallpaper sample) eye level at the center. I then worked row to row from the center frame to the left and then from the center frame to the right. After I hung the center most frame, I measured the center of the frame to the left (half of the width of the frame) plus 2 inches plus anther half of the second frame. This is where my second nail goes. Does this make sense? So, you measure the width of the frame plus 2 inches to get the spacing for each frame. For the top and bottom measurements, measure the length of the frame where the nail will hang on the frame plus two inches.
Step 3. Mix it up. Vary the size of frames and the style and type of frames. Don’t use too many small 5 x 7 frames close together, it will make the salon wall look lopsided and imbalanced next to the other larger frames. In the image below on my living room wall I’ve used ornate gold leaved frames, natural wood frames, black frames, and no frames at all! All varying in size and staggering in placement. I like doing a salon wall this way because first of all, I usually just end up using what I have in my home (one of the perks of having an artist husband), and second I think it looks more like a curated collection that way. We buy antique and thrifted frames, as well as custom made frames from my husband’s favorite frame maker Krieger Ricks.
Step 4. Add 3 dimensions Use sculptural elements to add dimension and interest and depth and fill in the gaps. In my son Henrik’s room we framed a large fox target that we found in Germany and bought for $3. Next to it is a tramp style frame. Tramp frames were carved from cigar boxes and shipping crates carved into notched layers. In between the frames are smaller, 3 dimensional pieces; an owl clock and roe deer antlers.
As mentioned in my last post, my husband and I collect milagros. Milagros are small and sculptural, fun to collect, and work really well to fill in the gaps in a gallery wall.
Step 5. Work from biggest to littlest. Start with the biggest piece of art and work your way down.
For many years My husband and I have had this large mosse stoopendaal bird painting hanging over our bed. It took the place of a headboard and we made sure to secure it well with the proper picture frame hooks, depending on weight. If your frames are light weight (and not over your head), you can use command velcro hanging strips. It works very well and is so easy to hang, not to mention, no holes in the wall!
Since we have a large collection of bird paintings we decided that it was time to add to our Moose Stoopendaal seagulls. We decided to dedicate this wall exclusively to the birds. Hitchcock would approve.
First, I had Nick hold up the second largest bird (hand colored Audubon birds of an American Coot) painting to determine the spacing of where it should go in relation to the Moose Stoopendaal. We did not measure and just relied on what felt right. I’ve been doing this for many years and my husband refuses to pull out the tape measure, ha!
After hanging the second bird we hung the European Woodpecker. I found this guy in an antique store in Sweden and knew Nick would love it. Next, we determined where the fourth painting would go. Ducks flying in the snow. Another one by Moose Stoopendaal.
We brought a lot of bird paintings in our bedroom to pick the right birds for this wall. There was a lot of trial and error (some didn’t make the cut) and we may have had a moment or two where I feared it would end in a Emergency room visit. Putting the ladder on the bed was not the smartest choice, but we got the nail in the wall with no casualties, hooray! Do not try this at home.
We ended up determining that the Capped Heron, by the talented living artist, Alex Warnick, should be placed above The Moose Stoopendaal because it is a larger painting and can easily be viewed from a far. Next to the Heron we placed one of Nick’s study of a baby seagull chick.
The smaller paintings; a pair of North America Kinglets from Alex Warnick, a Great-Horned Owl study from Nick, and a 19th century french still life, looked best closer to eye level to be able to see all the details.
We ended up adding on the left, a pair of juvenile Peregrine Falcons painted in gouache by Nicholas’ father, Michael Coleman.
The finished Salon wall! I am so happy with how it turned out. It makes the wall look bigger, the room more cosy, and I love looking at all the different birds. We probably will add a few more birds as we find them.