Fitting pictures to the home is like fitting clothes to a woman— it takes knowledge, taste and skill, and, in both cases, the lack of any one of the three is fatal to artistic success.
IDEAS concerning the mission of pictures in the home have changed considerably during the past fifteen or twenty years. It is neither an aspersion upon another generation nor an exaggeration to say that, during the last century, the acquisition of pictures was often regarded in much the same light as the "collecting" of cut glass, for both glass and pictures were displayed on much the same principle. They were added to a home in the process of building up an atmosphere of opulence and richness; they were possessions-to be shown and ad mired. Their frames were a "flame and a glory" and their relation to the rooms in which they hung was that of prized Cu rios to their cabinet.
To go into a room in which most of the wall space is filled with pictures, gives one much the same sensation as some friends of mine once encountered in Turkestan. On visiting one of the local potentates, they were ushered into a room in which there were, visible and concealed, no less than fifteen music boxes. In their honor these were all set playing, producing an almost excruciating din. The conflicting elements of too many and varied pictures on a wall is much the same confusion to the eye, as mixed melody to the ear. There is a lesson for any home which
still follows the old crowding fetish, in the example of the Japanese, who have a fine feeling for beauty and restraint. They have a custom of displaying only one picture at a time, and this in a place of honor. The rest of the collection may remain unseen in a closet especially provided for the purpose. Out of this hidingplace other pictures in their turn will be taken, but each is enjoyed and appreciated separately.
Oils, water-colors and etchings do not mix, though color prints and water-colors may sometimes be hung quite happily together. The type of room will usually determine what variety of picture is to hang within it.
In the rather severe room which one finds in so many of the newer moderate-sized houses, old oils and watercolors, unless they can adapt themselves to framing in a very restrained style, do not seem to fit. In a room where a certain ease and delicacy of treatment is found, say with mahogany trim or white woodwork suggestive of the Colonial, these older pictures find a more suitable setting. Prints, engravings and etchings are finding an admirable background in the newer architecture, and reframing many fine old and beloved pictures will do much to fit them into new settings, as well.
A good definition of a perfect frame is that given by Ruskin: “A little space of silence around the picture.”
To what violation that principle has been subjected is evident in the Florentine marvels and shadow-boxes by which so many of the fine household pictures of the last century were belittled. As a rule, the color of the frame should harmonize with the prevailing color of the picture. Dull narrow golds, with a faint greenish
cast are unusually good with landscapes, because of the greenery in the picture itself; pictures having a broad expanse of sky are well framed with a suggestion of blue, which is gained either by the introduction of a fine blue line in the frame, and stippling in blue and gold, or blue and some other soft color. Rich color prints and old oils, especially portraits, carry mahogany frames well. Tone as well as color must be considered and in determining the tone of a frame for a picture in which light and dark effects both appear, try to select the “middle” effect, or the medium shade between the light and dark. The mat, or the cardboard border which is placed around the picture within the frame itself, is another important factor in creating the necessary “space of silence.” Mats are, as a rule, of two kinds —gold and neutral (gray, buff, cream and white). Within these two finishes, there is
a large range of different shade and tone, enough to entirely change, make or mar a picture. The function of both the mat and frame is to blend into the picture which they surround, and sharp contrasts are to be avoided. In making this easier, mats can play a very important part. They often serve as a gradation between picture and frame, and when one is used, a frame of pronounced character or color often may serve for a delicate subject. Mats are not so much used in framing as they were heretofore, but they still serve special purposes. Especially are they useful in the framing of small etchings or prints. Here, by providing a broad margin between the subject itself and a narrow dark frame, they give dignity and presence to a delicate drawing, which because of its diminutive size might be lost in close framing. In the framing of upright pictures, you will often notice that the bottom margin
of the mat will be broader than that at sides or top. This is a framing principle that is almost always used when experienced persons are in charge of the work.
Hanging the Picture PICTURE hanging gives rise to the greatest glossary of “don’t’s” offthis whole subject. We have so many preconceived ideas, and so many ways of doing things unconsciously; as a matter of habit. For instance, take the usual method of hanging a picture to the molding on wire. The first method that comes to mind is the single wire attached at either side of the back of the picture, which forms an inverted “V” on the wall when attached to its hook. Its lines are completely at variance with the angles of the room, and though you may not be consciously aware of it, unrestful and trying to the eye. The proper method of hanging a heavy picture from the molding is to have a wire going straight up from each side attached to separate hooks. In hanging pictures by this method, make sure that they do not tip forward in the old-fashioned way. This may be avoided by placing the wire-fastenings as near the top as possible. When pictures hang flat against the wall there is less danger of unpleasant light-reflections. For the
medium-sized picture, the best method of hanging is by means of a device which is invisible. This has a brad driven through a metal hanger in such a way that the weight of the picture really helps to keep the brad in the wall. When the picture is in place, the hanger is entirely out of sight. Pictures should be hung with careful thought as to the balance and spacing of the whole room. There should not be a number on one wall, and few or none on another. If there is only a limited space for hanging them, it is better to use only one or two in that available space so that the empty parts of the room will not seem so utterly out of balance. The level at which pictures should be hung is, as a rule that of the eyelevel of a person of average height. Most walls are about nine feet high; the eye level of the average person is about five feet, so that the proper picture-level would usually be just above the middle of the wall. In a room which is too low, the effect of shallowness sometimes may be overcome by hanging a large upright picture at the level with two smaller pictures beside it, one a little above, the other a little below. If there are only two pictures, two may be hung above the other. A very high room can likewise be “brought down” by using long pictures, and hanging them so as to emphasize the horizontal line. In hanging pictures on panels between doors arid windows, the principle is to keep the contour of the panel in mind when hanging the picture, and for that reason the narrow panel mirrors, with picture inserts at the top, are good. Sometimes a horizontal panel will occur over a mantel, and in this case a long type of picture is required. The rule is, that in restricted space, the picture should follow the tendencies of the space in which it hangs. Where there are a number of small pictures to be hung, it is a mistake to
scatter them about the room. The best practice is to group them, usually over some piece of furniture, such as a sofa or desk, so that they form a unit. Combinations of three are usually good—say a large pi-ture with two smaller ones above or below. “Pyramiding” is the arrangement of pictures over some piece of furniture so that they form a group spreading toward the bottom. The oval picture forms a centre for a group of four smaller upright pictures that is very pleasing, while an oval alone, over a high-boy, mantel or sideboard, is charming. _
The background of pictures is important. A paper of fulsome design is not the place to hang pictures of any kind. A mirror is the best one can use with such a background. There should not be too
much contrast between a picture and its background. If there is, it seems either to be making a hole in the wall, or jumping out from it. Light backgrounds are best for engravings and etchings. Photographs look better against a dark paper.
In grouping pictures all the elements in the pictures themselves—their coloring, their composition and their subjects—have to be considered, but everyone can learn a little about their arrangement by experimenting, and keeping in mind a few basic principles.
Lighting in Picture-Hanging
BECAUSE of the possibility of reflection in the glass, it is important to hang pictures in relation to light, or to control light as much as possible in relation to the pictures. Oils, particularly, because of their shiny surfaces as well as their glasses, have a tendency to catch light. A window opposite an electrolier at night, floor lamps and even table lamps, may cast a disfiguring reflection.
It is permissible to attach a shaded toplight to fine pictures in a gallery, but it is poor form in a home. The best way to cast a soft glow over a canvas, is to place it in such a way that a light may be thrown from beneath. On a mantel, for instance, a little decorative casket in which a bulb may be placed, with a lightslot and mirror within, will throw just the proper amount of light.
There is really no determining rule by which pictures may be selected for any one room; it is no longer the fashion to have certain subjects for certain places. The custom of using pictures of dead game and still life for the dining room, is fortunately going out. The use of many personal photographs in the drawing room is also poor taste. Such intimate pictures belong either in the bedroom or the informal living room. The bedroom is a place where any little picture which is cherished, more because of its sentimental associations than its merit, may find refuge. It is neither a tribute to memory nor an addition to the atmosphere of
your home, to place it in a room fre quented by outsiders.
Some of us come into the possession o pictures without any] volition [of ou own. Perhaps the old pictures we inberi may need only a slightly difieren framing to fit into the scheme of ou homes; perhaps they are unworthy o hanging at all. As for buying pictures, thi only reason for acquiring one, should b; its aesthetic value to those in whose room: it remains. “We cannot associate daj after day,” says an authority on domestic art, “with any person or possession with-; out being influenced. The right picture: are like a new and becoming dress. Th; possessor really feels better and is better with either one. We go through definiti stages in our attention to pictures. First
there comes recognition. We are attracted to a picture because it looks just like something with which we are familiar. Many people never get beyond this stage. Photographs of fine pieces of architecture, of lovely bits of landscape, and of charming interiors, are wise choices in such cases.
“After the recognition stage comes that of human interest. Pictures are enjoyed not so much for themselves as for the emotion they arouse, or the story they tell. Judging by the quantity of this type of art which sells every year, the human interest is the most common one. Pictures of lovers, at, during or after a quarrel, sentimental representations of children at play or prayer, even such pictures as Watts’ ‘Sir Galahad,’ belong in this classification. Such pictures are the most difficult to select. They are often only ‘cute,’ and ‘cuteness’ like humor, grows stale by constant repetition. A wholesome, vigorous taste may enjoy a ‘heart-throb’ picture for an instant when it is seen on a candy-box or as an illustration in a piece of fiction, but the same mind will refuse to live with that type of picture day after day and week after week.
“The highest stage of appreciation is that which seeks in pictures an enlargement of the spirit. Not object lessons, nor stories, but revelation in its true sense is the mission of art in our lives. Not to tell us something we already know, not to excite our emotions, but to show us new beauty in nature, added meaning in life, and to reveal a higher plane of thought and action—-this is the real function of pictures in our homes.”
The best rule for selecting a picture is to look at it often before you buy it. Does it open out new fields to you—really set you thinking? Is it above or below your present mental level? If a picture really enlarges your life, sets free within you something otherwise unexpressed, it is worthy of a place in your home. Never buy a picture simply to fill a space on the wall.
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