Is there a name for the way pictures were hung in Victorian houses?

Something I’ve seen in several house museums, usually from the 1850s-1880s, is several consective rows of portraits and paintings and, sometimes, photographs suspended from high on the ceiling to the wainscoting or so, and often with cords connecting the painting to those above and below it.

This portrait of the Vanderbilt family ca. 1880 has such an arrangement on the left wall; the paintings are layered and also at a slight angle. Private Viewing, a portrait of Oscar Wilde and others in the aesthetic movement also features the arrangement, albeit in an art gallery rather than private residence and not quite as symmetrical (i.e. two or three in a column and all of equal size).

Is there a name for this style of picture arrangement?

It’s called salon style


Now to pose what I thought was the question: When paintings and pictures are hung by wires from the ceiling moulding, what is that style of hanging called?

Okay, how about this arrangement, which was really common in my older (fl. early 20th century) relatives’ homes?:


I’m sure there’s a term for three small portraits or sillhouettes hung on the diagonal, but I’ve never run into it.

I dunno, but there was usually a moulding especially for hanging pictures from called picture moulding mounted below the crown moulding. Searching for it on wikipedia turns up a generic article on moulding. Searching for it on Google turns up a lot of how-to articles plus advertising.

If you look at the way other Victorian homes were decorated, you’ll find that the pictures tended to be hung in a single row from a ‘picture rail’ which would be around 18" to 2 foot from the room ceiling.

This leads a a certain look, as you end up with very long picture cords, since the pictures themselves would be hung at around head height. If you had a range of differant picture widths, the angles from the single picture hook to the picture frame would vary - there was usually no attempt to hide the picture mounting.

Sometimes there would be shallow shelf attached to the picture rail where decorative objects could be displeyed.

The image you link to is of a very wealthy home, for the middle classes and lower middle classes the rooms would be too small for that form of picture hanging.

Not just cords, but decorative ribbons would run up the wall from the picture frame to the moulding, fastened with a decorative bow. That cartoon trope of a nail driven into plaster cracking and bringing down everthing covering the wall lathing was an exaggeration of actual occurrence.

The salon style of exhibiting paintings cited above was similar to how grocery stores accept kickbacks from manufacterers to put certain items at eye-level, while other brands get placed at ankle-level or on the higher shelves. An artist whose painting had been displayed up by the rafters would say his work had been “skied.”

Galleries didn’t have adjustable track lighting like they do today, so another placement contention was if the painting was visible, or just a varnished blur.

Some older walls didn’t allow you to just hang things anywhere. You needed strips of wood into which you could set a nail/hanger/etc. This led to a variety of picture arrangements in columns or rows, or resulted in the wire/cord being visible if one wanted to lower the picture from the designated rail or similar piece or molding.

nitpick: the paintings hang from a picture rail, not wainscotting, which is genrally applied to the wall below the chair rail.

Poor wording on my part- I meant the pictures go from the ceiling down to the wainscoting. (I’ve been to some old houses where they cover so much from the wainscoting to the ceiling you can barely see the wall.)

Also, both the actual Salon and this style of picture-hanging were around well before Victoria.