Journey to a Hanging [My Version]


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I have pressed a friend who hangs artworks for a living to assist me in hanging the pictures in the newly painted hall. The date arranged is a month away – the long Queen’s Birthday weekend. The day I arrived down in Napier to do the pre-hang plan is the Queen’s real 90th birthday, so everything seems in alignment.

I have called in a professional because I want the paintings to hang level at exactly the same height above the dado. I want also to achieve a nice sense of space around each one. This means there will be a lot of measuring to be done. I also want to minimise the number of ‘accident’ holes in the new paintwork. What goes where is up to me. Well that’s what I thought.

Now the hallway is painted Peter has decided he likes the bare walls and is resisting hanging anything at all. This is I have decided ‘a phase’ that just needs to be got though. I can see his point. The space is clean and bright for the first time ever and the effect is transformational. The hall was always a rather dingy zone, badly lit and sheathed in a Softboard (a feature of cheap flats where it can take impact) and unfinished tongue and groove boards that gave it a log cabin look. For the first time ever it looks crisp and sharp and bright. At the same time, lying in stacks around the house, are more than fifty artworks that need to be hung somewhere.


The initial concept was for the Entrance Hall (the front section of the hall), to be hung with the bulk of the available works, all works on paper and largely watercolours. This was to be done in strict verticals the placement of which is determined by the architectural form of the space. When the hall takes its right hand turn into the heart of the house, the hang would become sparser and it seems now may even stay blank.

The architectural form of the hall comes down to two main elements, doors and the dado rail. Of these the dado rail determines the lower level of the hang. None of the furniture in the hall protrudes above the rail, so that line is undisturbed visually through the whole expanse. The space above it, now painted grey, is the zone of the hang. One side of the hall wall is pierced with four doors in short succession which makes for a good space for pictures in that the options are limited.



Laying the pictures out of the floor, there seems to be a number of possible groupings whether it is by size, subject matter or artist. There are a couple of round ones and two or three modern works all of which that help out in the variety stakes. There is also an eclectic line up of frame types.

As we always suspected there is a surfeit of small paintings that comes both from our buying habits and the tendency of early Nineteenth century watercolours to be small. Working through the line-up of works on the floor and talking them through with Peter, I realized two things, or I came to the same realization of two different angles.

Not everything can go up!


The cornice to dado hang initially planned is a pointless exercise when so many of the works will simply not be seen due to their small-scale and detail and a close to 4 metre wall height. Anything much above the height of the doors would be on display but hardly readable which doesn’t help the overall design of the room.

The best way to deal with this had been a plan that concentrates on the middle section of the wall leaving the dado as the bottom edge and something near the top of the doors as the upper limit. I’ve sketched this out and I think it will work and accommodate about 21 works on the left hand wall.

The next realization is a little harder to take. Some of the works turn out to be a little more inconsequential than first thought.

Part of the reason that this space is being used for watercolours is that a gentle Southern light filtered by a deep verandah means the colours will be preserved. Real watercolour collectors don’t expose their treasures to a wall but instead keep works in boxes rather than frames. Most of the previous owners on the pieces here haven’t had such kindly treatment. Rather than simply fade away old watercolours tend to turn brown. At best that gives them a sunset glow at worst they look drab. Too much drab is of course the death of any and all décor schemes.

Some less than stellar works can be lifted by the work next to them and too much indifference can pull down a good work. So the best course of action seems to be a cull. That is hard because you buy a work for what you like about it and unless you’re hard-hearted about it you overlook the flaws. Not hanging things I bought after uncovering them in auctions is going to take some adjusting too on my part. However a little hard heartedness now will make a better room.

Facing up to the opposite wall, where there is less architecture to shape things, I am opting for a concentrated arrangement. It will centre on the space between the library door and the front door, opposite a small sideboard that sits in the hall. It will accommodate 11 works.

With this wall sketched out the total hang accommodates 32 works. So around 18 works aren’t going to make the grade. Which of them won’t make it is something that can’t be worked out on paper or even on the floor. That I’m leaving for Queen’s Birthday weekend. In the mean time there are six weeks of elegantly empty walls to be gazed upon.




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