Salon style

Have you seen the popularity of gallery walls in homes recently?

Image courtesy of House Beautiful

They are everywhere. It is the trendiest new way to show off a collection of photos, art and memorabilia. Except…it’s not really new. Today’s Design Vocabulary is about where this trend originated and how it is useful again in homes today.

The “gallery wall”, as it is commonly called today, is quite an accurate name. One of the original French terms for “art gallery” is “Salon”. The habit of showing multiple pieces of art on one wall or surface became known as “Salon style”. You can see it in its original action right here:

Image courtesy of

Salons, also sometimes referred to as “Salon de Paris”, were the official annual art shows of the French Académie des Beaux-Art in Paris, France. Starting in the 1700’s, these massive art shows lasted for weeks of each year so that all of the critics and reviewers had a chance to consider and document the work.

It was a great achievement for artists to have even one piece of their work shown at the Salon. It gave them wider exposure within the arts community, recognition of a certain standard among art buyers and a sort of launch of their name as an artist to be taken seriously.

Image courtesy of

The general public attended these art shows as well. The Salons were held at the Louvre museum and the crowds would line up to get in for hours every day. (Not unlike some experiences at the Louvre today.) Once they were inside, the lowest members of the public classes mingled with upper class critics and artists alike.

Public opinions (a new idea at the time) were expressed right along with those of the elite experts. This became popular with the public for the same reasons many people today would love to attend big movie premieres. It was THE stylish entertainment and you could say you were there, in the middle of it all. Whether or not you actually cared for the art was beside the point:

"This Year, Venuses Again" by Daumier, 1864, Image courtesy of Wikipedia

To fit in all of the art chosen for each Salon, the paintings were hung in the Louvre from floor to ceiling. As you can see in the illustration below, the larger paintings were hung toward the ceiling, allowing the details of the smaller painting to be viewed more easily, closer to eye-level.

This juxtaposition allowed for more comparison between the individual artists and their contemporaries. It also made the rooms buzz with conversation and gossip amongst the attendees, a marketing strategy we still see at play in the press every around Los Angeles Oscar parties.

Image courtesy of

As the fashion of attending the annual Salon de Paris became mandatory for the social elite, the Salon style of hanging multiple pictures in larger groups began to appear in almost every class of domestic setting. It was a less-than-subtle way of showing your guests that you not only attending the Salons, but could afford to live and decorate with your own art collection.

Image from the Palace of Fontainebleau courtesy of

Today, with the technological addition of photography to our arts, there are many more choices as to what can be included on a Salon style wall. This is now also a great place to display art, family photos, special mementos, etc.

Many of today’s designers (myself included) like to use a gallery wall to make a small space look larger. By placing art in a larger group, the art is can visually become one large piece, giving the illusion of a larger wall. Similarly, by placing the top row of art closer to the ceiling, the eye is naturally drawn up to take them in, giving the impression of a higher ceiling. You can see both of these effects in this example:

Image courtesy of Elle Decor

Do you like a gallery wall in the Salon style? I’ll be posting an easy DIY tutorial next week! Stay tuned!

What would you include in gallery wall? You can read some great ideas for art here, here, here and here. Do you have a great idea for beautiful art in the home? Leave a comment and share it with other readers!

Posted on June 8, 2011, in Design Vocabulary. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I have started to notice this trend in all the magazines and design shows I watch, but I never knew the history. I’ve got a small “gallery wall” in my apartment, but I’d like to make it more prominent. I never thought to hang pictures so close to the ceiling. That’s a great tip.

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