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How to Display Fine Art

This article is a quick guide to give you some ideas on how to display your art. I’ll begin with the usual admonishments. First, avoid hanging artwork in kitchens and bathrooms or anywhere they would be exposed to excess moisture or splashes from food preparation and cooking; and second, avoid hanging artwork in the path of air from heating and cooling ductwork or above radiators, or direct sunlight. Although paintings may look good in these areas, you are exposing them to sources of damage that will need expert care in a few years. These rules apply to both modern paintings and 19th century or earlier paintings. The rooms in a home typically used to display artwork include the living room, dining room, study/den, family room, and bedroom. But you can hang paintings in hallways (if they are wide enough to avoid bumping) and up stairways to serve as transitions from one area to another. How you do that is up to you—your home is your canvas to make a personal statement.

Be as diligent in the display of your art as you were in its selection. Are you looking to display a single painting or multiple paintings on a wall? A large painting should have its own wall. Avoid hanging a very small painting on a large wall. It can be hung above the fireplace or other focal point in the room. The painting does not have to be “dead center” in the middle of a wall, but that would probably work best if hung above the sofa or fireplace. If not hung above a fireplace or sofa, a small table adjacent to the painting, displaying a vase filled with flowers, a decorative lamp or statuary, can provide focus to your painting. However, avoid decorative objects that will overpower or detract from it.

If you are contemplating displaying multiple small paintings on a wall, avoid hanging them in a line gallery style, especially when they are of different sizes. Certain pieces can be hung in a line, especially if they are the same size and have the same or similar type of frame. Think geometrically, if they are all of the same size and you have an even number, trying placing them in a rectangle—two above and two below. You want to avoid “visual dissonance”—that feeling that something is not quite right about the display and that makes you want to keep “tweaking” them. Also avoid a cluttered or an obvious mismatched look. This does not mean that you cannot hang a painting in a beautiful ornate 19th century frame with modern art or with frames having simpler lines in the same room, it may be best not to have them on the same wall.

Nineteenth century artwork can complement a modern home—one where the focus is on simple, linear lines of furnishings and accent pieces. These 19th century paintings provide an unexpected, but pleasant “surprise”, plus they add depth and a level of sophistication when artfully combined with sculptures and exotic plants. If it is a large painting, try placing it on any easel—this goes for both old and new paintings. The type of easel is not quite as important--the focus should be on the painting.

If you have an uneven number of paintings and of different sizes, pick one painting as your focus—it should be the one making the “boldest” statement, whether by subject, color, or size. Often it is the largest one. Depending on the number you have, you can stack paintings on either side with the midpoint centered with your focal piece. Or if there is enough space, and the paintings are not too large, encircle your focal piece. Keep the space equal between paintings, but you do not have to them symmetrically arranged based on the size of the frames—nothing wrong with a little asymmetry, but it can be a challenge to pull off. This is sometimes referred to as “collage” viewing and placement should be well thought out in advance before trying. Sketches of the wall are helpful. Remember, though, that you do not want “visual dissonance”. Also, do not hang your paintings too high. Paintings should be hung at, or near, eyelevel. You do not want your guests craning their necks uncomfortably.

You may have heard that the painting should tie in with your color scheme—that there is a color in the painting that “pulls in” the colors your fabrics or wall treatment, in other words, complements them. Remember, that a painting is composed of many colors made by combinations from a set of primary colors. So unless your décor or painting is very unusual, almost any painting of any size, with any frame can work with any décor or color scheme.

Your paintings make a statement about you, and just as you want to be seen in good light, you want your paintings to be seen in good light. Light from floor or table lamps often is not enough to bring out the true qualities of your artwork at night. Consider investing in wall and lighting fixtures specially designed for art displays. Overhead, track, or recessed lighting as well as those that mount direct to picture frames. Individual lights over each picture are attractive, but consider using the battery-operated version to avoid the clutter of cords, which detract from your room, not to mention the painting. Bedford Fine Gallery uses SoLux lighting, a patented light source that provides an unparalleled replication of daylight minus ultraviolet and infrared light to bring out the true colors and beauty while keeping them safe. SoLux is used by many of the world's top museums including the Musee d'Orsay, Van Gogh Museum, and Guggenheim Museum, and the National Archives.

Art is all about you. What you select, how you arrange it, and how you light it, is an insight into your personality. Divulge as little or as much as you care to.

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