Create Your Own Salon Wall: A Brief History and How-To Guide

High Museum of Art
Aug 10 · 5 min read

Looking to spruce up your quarantine space? We’re here with a complete Salon Wall How-To Guide, and some background on the popular style of display.

By Eva Berlin, Digital Content Specialist, High Museum of Art

A neoclassical sculpture of a seated woman sits in front of a salon wall of paintings.
A neoclassical sculpture of a seated woman sits in front of a salon wall of paintings.
Take in the splendor of a salon wall at the High Museum of Art, Stent Family Wing, Level 3, Gallery 307

During quarantine, most of us have spent an inordinate amount of time inside our homes. If it feels like the walls of monotony are closing in on you, it might be time to spruce up your surroundings. Taking inspiration from the High Museum’s American Art galleries, here’s a high-impact way to add color and variety to your home: create your own salon wall!

Perhaps the High’s salon wall gallery is your happy place, or maybe you’ve admired other “gallery wall” displays popular on Pinterest, Instagram, or in interior design magazines. They look intimidating to recreate, but we’re here to walk you through it with a full Salon Wall How-To Guide!

Let’s take a look at how this popular style of display came to be — and how you can achieve it in your own home.

Salon Wall History

In a traditional salon-style hang, paintings were densely hung from chair rail to ceiling.

This style of display was commonly used in Europe in the late 1600s, and it later came into fashion in America in the mid-1800s. During this period, industrialization and economic growth led to an expansion of the luxury goods market.

Previously, only the very wealthy could afford to own art, and they typically bought stately portraits or grandiose paintings of historical scenes. With a new middle class emerging, demand increased for a wider variety of genres — including still life paintings, which were smaller and more affordable.

Our nation’s first art museums and art schools were also founded at this time, giving artists access to formal training and opportunities for public display. Salon-style displays were the go-to as they used space efficiently — and they fit right in with the maximalist “more is more” aesthetic of the Victorian era.

Black and white photograph of the Renwick Gallery building.
Black and white photograph of the Renwick Gallery building.
Painting by Samuel F. B. Morse of the Louvre Salon in the 1800s.
Painting by Samuel F. B. Morse of the Louvre Salon in the 1800s.
The Renwick Gallery, America’s first dedicated art museum, opened in Washington, DC, in 1853; While studying painting in France, American artist Samuel F. B. Morse painted this view of the Louvre’s Salon. Samuel F. B. Morse (American, 1791–1872), Gallery of the Louvre, 1831–33. © Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago.

Salon hangs were political. With some works reaching as high as the ceiling, certain spots were obviously more coveted than others. In this hierarchical layout, paintings deemed the most important were hung at eye level, or “on the line,” while those by lesser-known artists were “skied” high above. Artists often relied on impressive frames to draw attention to their works as they hung side-by-side with dozens of others.

So, who got the prime real estate at eye level? At the National Academy (founded in 1825 in New York City), Members, or Academicians, were given privileged positions on the walls. Others had to apply for a chance to show work. Members were almost exclusively White men, although some White women were accepted after 1846. In 1869, Charles Ethan Porter became the first Black artist admitted to the Academy.

Salon Wall How-To Guide:

Gather Artworks and Interesting Objects

Pull out your favorite paintings, drawings, and family photographs — but don’t stop there. Add in maps, masks, embroidery hoops, ceramic pieces, and any other hangable objects you’d like to see each day. Be creative and resourceful!

Black and white print of a madonna figure by Edvard Munch.
Black and white print of a madonna figure by Edvard Munch.
Colorful abstract painting with bleeding colors by Morris Louis.
Colorful abstract painting with bleeding colors by Morris Louis.
Painting of a tumultuous Irish sea cave by Thomas Moran.
Painting of a tumultuous Irish sea cave by Thomas Moran.
High-quality reproductions of High Museum artworks are available online at the Custom Prints Shop. Shop Edvard Munch’s Madonna (Eva Mudocci), Morris Louis’s Para III, and Thomas Moran’s Fingal’s Cave.

Wishing you had your favorite High Museum artworks at home? Head to the High’s Custom Prints Shop to snag a high-quality digital reproduction on paper or canvas. You can even select a frame.

Choose a Wall

Choose a wall and define the borders of your hanging space. Using a tape measure and painters tape, mark off a space of the same size on the floor (preferably in front of the wall).

Consider sight lines. Do you have a nice view from your favorite spot on the couch? Will this wall make an impact when you walk through the front door?

Image for post
Image for post
In this arrangement, the artworks are united in genre, but variety comes through in the diverse sizes, frames, and painting styles. Photograph by Morgan Ione Yeager.

Anchor Your Hang

Choose your anchors, or the largest pieces you know you want to hang. Since these are the biggest, most impactful pieces, you want to choose their placement first — and then you can fill in the blanks around them.

A grouping of artworks on a wall with a strip of blue painters tape on the left side.
A grouping of artworks on a wall with a strip of blue painters tape on the left side.
In this arrangement, painters tape mimics the height of the anchor piece and serves as a boundary line for the smaller works.

If you’re hanging on an empty wall, it’s customary for the focal point of your artwork or arrangement to be at around 57–60 inches high. However, if you are hanging artworks over a piece of furniture, you’ll likely need to adjust the height upwards.

Consider the overall desired shape and feel of your hang. Do you want flush outer edges or a funky shape?

Pepper in the Smaller Pieces

Next, set all the smaller works on the ground. Try placing them in different spots around the anchor pieces. Remember that a salon-style display is not a rigid grid — pieces should look like they’re nestled in together.

Timelapse gif of artworks being hung on a large wall using a lift.
Timelapse gif of artworks being hung on a large wall using a lift.
Here’s a glimpse of the High’s salon wall installation. Gif by Ashley Wills

As for spacing, a good rule of thumb is to leave at least a one- or two-inch margin around each piece, and don’t hang all the way to the floor. When you find an arrangement you like, take a photo from above. Photos are especially helpful if you’d like to compare a few different options.

Once you’ve found your favorite layout, it’s hammer time!

Consider the variety and distribution of textures, colors, shapes, genres, and visual weight (or how much something draws your eye). Are you aiming for a tightly coordinated scheme or a wildly eclectic smattering?

Hang It Up

A grouping of artworks and objects, with a pair of hands reaching in from the right side to adjust a hat.
A grouping of artworks and objects, with a pair of hands reaching in from the right side to adjust a hat.

Using your floor layout as a guide, begin hanging works from left to right, or radiating out from the center (depending on your layout). Refer to your floor layout to measure the spacing between each piece. Finally, finish the job with a level for a polished look.

If you’re working with lightweight or unframed works in a rental space, you could secure works using removable strips and hooks or sticky tack.

Voila, you’ve done it! Sit back and enjoy the “Victorian clutter” visual feast you’ve just created. Show us your creations on Instagram with #HighMuseumatHome.


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High Museum of Art

Stories from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta

High Museum of Art

Written by

The High is Atlanta’s art museum, bringing creativity to your everyday. Our collections, exhibitions, and programs are always here for you.

High Museum of Art

Stories from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta

High Museum of Art

Written by

The High is Atlanta’s art museum, bringing creativity to your everyday. Our collections, exhibitions, and programs are always here for you.

High Museum of Art

Stories from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta

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