20 December 2010

Get Inspired: Trumeau Mirrors

A trumeau mirror updated with a graphic nineteenth-century botanical depiction of a cactus.

I have never been fond of trumeau mirrors, whether trumeau de glace, trumeau de cheminée, or trumeau whatever. Perhaps I've just seen too many second-rate examples of these tall, thin looking glasses, where the upper panel is filled with an indifferent painting depicting mincing courtiers or twee arrangements of flowers and usually displayed in a saccharine French-style room.

Yesterday, however, I was at a friend's house in Cooperstown, New York, and remembered she owns a pair of matching trumeau mirrors and has jazzed up their tasseled Louis XVI formality with gritty botanical prints depicting tropical plants. So out came my iPhone and I started clicking. One trumeau contains an image of a wonderfully spiky cactus; the other, which hangs in a spare room over a chest of drawers, displays a portrait of a bunch of unripe bananas, as if the stalk had been hacked from a tree with a machete mere moments before. The gutsy works of art add an unexpected south-of-the-border swagger to the elegant green-and-gold frames. One could easily imagine them hanging in a mansion in Mexico City or in the salon of a ranch on the Argentine pampas.

My friend's departure from the trumeau norm gave me an idea that I might pursue, if I ever come across a trumeau that's attractive enough and cheap enough to seduce me. Why not fill the upper section with a mod watercolor, an abstract oil painting, a graphic map, a striking photograph, a Matisse-style collage made by your child, even a fascinating scrap of exotic fabric? After all a trumeau is just a frame with a reflective section below. So why not be creative with what you put in it?

Inspired, I took an online spin through the engrossing website of The Old Print Shop in New York City and found a few interesting possibilities, such as a fantastically fiery Currier & Ives print of the flaming wreck of steamboat Lexington in 1840 and a bold 2001 abstract woodcut by Su-Li Hung.

The trumeau hanging in a friend's spare room is fitted with a botanical image of a bunch of bananas.