The year 1667 marked an iconic moment for the presentation of art – the birth of the salon wall. More widely known now as gallery wall, it all began at The Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, which hosted the first official Salon – a pioneering annual art exhibition presenting a selection of the finest European academic artists. This collective approach to hanging allowed for a practical and cohesive showcasing of many different artists’ work on one wall. But the buoyant displays had such character and energy that the walls became works of art in their own right. To this day, galleries, museums and individuals choose to adopt this style of hanging in order to bring together a myriad of moods in one breath.
Creating a gallery wall at home can seem daunting, but there is no right or wrong way as it works in a multitude of different styles and spaces. If you love each picture individually, there will be a natural balance dictated by your own personal taste. That said, you might find that some paintings argue with one another and just one picture can throw the whole ensemble out of kilter, so it can be handy to have more pictures than you need in case one just doesn’t quite work.
To get you on your way, we have created a step-by-step guide to hanging a gallery wall in a basic cross formation.
Variety is the key to a satisfying grouping. Mismatched frames look really enticing and you can have a lot of fun hunting for them. Contemporary prints also look great in old frames so always be on the look out for gems in your local second-hand shop/auction/brocante market. By mixing up the genres and periods, you can create an interesting and eclectic contrast.
Get everything ready before you start. Make sure all of your pictures have safe fixings on the back and that you have the appropriate hooks for your wall. Different walls require different hooks so, if you don’t know what your wall is made of, test it with a steel pin. If that does not go in easily then use the white plastic ‘hard wall’ hooks. It can be helpful to have someone to assist you who can hold the pictures in position allowing you to stand back to get some perspective.
Measure the space on the wall that you would like to adorn - top to bottom and left to right. Then transfer those measurements onto the floor by using masking tape to mark the perimeter. If you have a busy carpet or floor boards you might want to lay down a plain sheet. Choose a focal painting to put in the middle – ideally the largest – and assemble the other pictures around it one by one. Play around with different configurations until it clicks and, once you’re happy, take a photo of the formation to refer to later.
By starting with a cross you can get some control on your formation. You want to start with the middle picture first, so measure the central point in your desired area, making a light mark on the wall with a pencil. This pencil mark is roughly where you want to put your first nail/hook, but hold the picture in place to make sure. Next, hang the pictures directly underneath and above your central picture making a straight line of three. This is a good time to adjust them if necessary but, if you’re happy with the height, then you can go ahead and hang the left and right pictures.
From now on it becomes easier! You’re aiming for roughly the same distance between each picture but don’t worry if they are not totally equal. This is not an exact science and the irregularities can be more charming. So once you’ve got your cross on the wall, it’s just a case of going round the clock and filling in the gaps.
There will undoubtedly be a bit of trial and error in the process but don’t worry! A great way to change the height of the picture without moving the nail is to tighten or slacken the wire on the back of the picture.
The beauty of this style of hanging is the versatility. As your collection grows and changes, you can keep adding to it and moving pictures around. You can even alter the shape entirely by swapping in different sized/shaped pictures. The possibilities are endless so just go for it!
Shop Wall Art >
Claudia Kennaugh is a partner of Catharine Miller - a contemporary art gallery specialising in vibrant, figurative art from Europe and South America. Visit the gallery at Hollywood Road in Chelsea, which has been trading since 1980, or go online to view their current collection (catharinemiller.com). For a bespoke art advisory service, contact Claudia Kennaugh (kennaugh-contemporary.com).