08 December 2010

Details Count: No-Nail Pictures

Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers at home with one of her several dachshunds. Photograph by Richard Rutledge for American "Vogue," 15 March 1945.
Most people simply pound a nail into a wall when they decide to display a photograph or a painting. Sadly, however, that's where those framed treasures usually stay for time immemorial, often losing their power to attract the eye through daily familiarity. But leaning a work of art against a wall rather than displaying it conventionally on the wall is always more interesting. (And I'm not talking about utilizing those narrow picture shelves popularized by mail-order catalogues.) Casual placement on tabletops, mantles, even the floor, is curiously potent. It implies a certain dégagé attitude toward the treatment of one's possessions as well as, conversely, a sense of deep attention to the intended effect. Even if the work of art in question isn't particularly compelling or valuable, propping gives it more gravitas. Plus, this kind of deployment allows works to be moved around at will without resorting to a hammer.

The impossibly stylish Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers, shown above, propped several giltwood-framed paintings on a Greek-key-ornamented desk in her living room in the 1940s. Curiously the table lamps partially obscure the art, tempting one to step forward and take a closer look. (Sometimes great design is about seducing others to experience the world way you do.) The leaned pictures also break up the formality of the installation, loosening the stays, as it were, of the matching lamps and the symmetrical display of nineteenth-century paintings on the wall above.

Tastemaker Pauline de Rothschild, another charter member of the propped-art school, often displayed a small Bonnard painting on a chair carefully placed at her bedside, so it was the first thing the American-born baroness saw when she woke. Precious, but why not? Real style embodies a certain amount of idiosyncrasy.

A great friend of mine, a lady of highly evolved aesthetics, has set a beautiful representation of a flower — I'm sure it's an antique, a Redouté perhaps? — on the floor of her spare but perfectly decorated sitting room overlooking the East River in New York City. The rather small artwork, no bigger than a standard magazine cover, is beautifully framed and placed so low and with such modesty that coming upon it is a delightful surprise. Seeing it out of the corner of one's eye, leaning against the baseboard, is like a gift.

15 comments:

Mrs. Blandings said...

I agree with all this, so beautifully written, but I am absolutely delighted that the dog is standing on the desk.

Paul Pincus said...

''It implies a certain dégagé attitude toward the treatment of one's possessions as well as, conversely, a sense of deep attention to the intended effect. Even if the work of art in question isn't particularly compelling or valuable, propping gives it more gravitas.''

That was brilliant and gorgeous, Aesthete!!

little augury said...

How true, well said and an absolute delicacy to read-Brilliant and at your rapturous Best. and I love that it is idiosyncrasy that implies style-as someone commented about my Christmas post on another blog today.
This evening I will reexamine my pictures, nails and pat myself on the back that I have made a start with this concept already. pgt

Cece said...

Nice to see you back, AL! I love all of the details and descriptions everyone has posted, plus that great starfish pin!

An Aesthete's Lament said...

It's nice to be back, Cece.

balsamfir said...

I'm with Mrs. B. I love the dog who owns the house. Personally, I avoid nails, since I move pictures all the time. It also allows one to get away with very large paintings in rooms with smallish ceilings. It IS nice to see you back in time for the holidays.

jones said...

I have never thought of "propped pictures" in this manner--but I think you're spot on. I think I'll do some more propping. The idea of an old master drawing displayed this way is especially interesting. Thanks. Mary

Kevin said...

I'm so glad you're back!

objectlove said...

I am restoring (?) a ranch house in Illinois, but need to see my art + pictures - so this is a great idea. Keeps the walls pristine, and it is easier to gather up the goods when working on walls and creating devil dust everywhere.

Colette said...

How lovely to see you back here, Im a big fan, and prop pictures all the time in our work. An absolute must, along with books on the floor. xx Colette

Colette said...

i think im having technical trouble...but i want to say im so happy to see you back. couldnt agree more on this post, and books on the floor too! x Colette

D. Dial said...

See now I though I was being lazy for propping up my artwork......now I find I'm being chic. Love it!

townhouseturnaround said...

Millicent is fabulous indeed. I love that she has a trashcan under her desk (and a dog upon it). I can never understand how people work (or perhaps in Millicent Rogers' case correspond) without one.

Leslie said...

What fun to read about one of my absolutely favorite women described so beautifully by you, one of my favorite writers in the world of design. Wondering if you have ever visited her museum in Taos, New Mexico. There is a spectacular display of her own jewelry designs as well as her collection of New Mexican furniture and turquoise and silver jewelry. I am entering the blogging world and have written a few small items about our mutual friend, Paul Garzotto and the late Marguerite Green. You inspire me to share my photos from the Millicent Rogers Museum. I look forward to following you and thanks for helping me recognize that I am a fellow Aesthete.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Dear Leslie, You put a smile on my face with the mention of dearest Maggie Green. And Paul too. Maggie was one of my greatest, dearest friends, and I regularly miss her presence. She was one of the most lovely creatures on the planet.