Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Master Speaks




Many of you know that one of my design icons is the late Van Day Truex- designer, Parsons instructor, and Tiffany & Co. design director. An authority on all matters of design, Truex wrote an article in a 1946 issue of House & Garden about framing and hanging pictures (apparently something which confounded people back then as it does today).

Truex, whose living room is seen above, wrote that one should frame and hang a picture so that will "enhance, embellish, complement, and emphasize the picture". I agree. Truex preferred gold leaf and gilt frames for both modern and traditional pictures, although plain black or wooden frames were also acceptable. I think he would have approved of Kenneth Jay Lane's choice of frames for his Orientalist art:



Of course, not every picture is a fine work of art. For artwork that is more decorative, Truex said that framing could be as "entertaining and spirited as one wishes". I would say that these prints in a room by Roger Banks-Pye are definitely spirited- the geometric-patterned frames are quite striking.



Another treatment that I find quite charming is hanging pictures with decorative cord (although Truex, who was more of a purist, might not have agreed with me). You could use a simple cord, like that used by John Fowler:



Or you could go a bit more elaborate like Elsie de Wolfe did at Villa Trianon (although, to be quite honest, I can't tell if the cord is real or faux-painted):



Regarding placement of pictures, Truex advises one to hang or display the art in close proximity to one's furniture rather than up towards the ceiling. I think this vignette by Miles Redd sums up this idea perfectly:



And for a quirky spin on picture hanging, you could hang your artwork like Horst P. Horst did here, "like steps up the wall" according to H&G.



(Image of Kenneth Jay Lane from "Elle Decor So Chic")

36 comments:

  1. I love the first photo Jennifer and KJL's home is always a delight to behold!

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  2. The Master leaves me speechless.
    What as tyle !!!

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  3. djellabah10:39 AM

    Also something to note re the Truex living room: The architectural surroundings seem unspeakably bland and dull, so the plethora of art (hung thickly, in the manner of a 19th-century group show) gives the room some necessary distinction. This is something to remember when you live in a boxy apartment or house with low ceilings and moldings not worth speaking about.

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  4. djellabah10:52 AM

    A few observations. One, the cords in the Fowler room look strangely limp, as if they aren't holding any weight (I know they actually aren't but feel they should appear to do so). Second, the Elsie de Wolfe cords, I am pretty sure, were painted onto the boiserie, though think how charming actual cords and tassels would be! Other excellent hanging/framing ideas to follow are those of Marie-Laure de Noailles, the great and highly bizarre 20th-century art collector and muse. In her house on the Place des Etats-Unis in Paris, Hôtel Bischoffsheim (now the headquarters of Baccarat), some of her modern and old-master paintings were "hung" from massive crisscrossed red cords, others from lengths of hefty cast-iron chain, which was highly chic.

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  5. djellabah- That's a good point, and something which I'm sure many people are faced with. Not many new apts or homes are designed with interesting interior architecture. The mirror on the right hand wall (in the Truex apt) adds some interest too.

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  6. This makes me want to lower the prints over my living room sofa tonight. My father-in-law is always telling me I hang things too high; he may be right. I think I am trying to create the allusion of a higher ceiling. Clearly the wrong approach. Truex declarations always make me a bit distraught if I am not in line with them. I'm still a smidge worried about my green kitchen.

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  7. Anonymous12:08 PM

    Maybe the opposite was true: That Truex kept the moldings simple and clean intentionally, so that the art could be the star. In other words, he wasn't compensating, he was just balancing.

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  8. Patricia- Yes, a kitchen can only be white!!!! ;)

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  9. Anon- Well, you've got a good point too. Obviously his paintings were important to him (esp. since a few of pieces above were painted by him). I didn't have my Truex book handy when I wrote this post, but I'm assuming this is his NY apt and not his Paris apt. Anyway, it is an interesting way to look at it. Thanks!

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  10. Perfect timing. I was just over at Ralph Lauren, Atlanta, taking in the dramatic grouping of art along the grand stairs. It may break a few Truex rules, but for a store in a mall I think it's fabulous.

    Love your images Jennifer.

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  11. Courtney- That sweeping stair case with the grouping of pictures is so dramatic! Everytime I see it I forget that I'm in Lenox!

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  12. djellabah1:09 PM

    According to the original magazine article, the living room pictured was that of Truex's New York City apartment, with no mention of the moldings or other architecture being altered. The recent and highly absorbing Van Day Truex biography by Adam Lewis indicates that nothing structural was done to the apartment, which was a rental and only lived in by Truex for a relatively short time.

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  13. djellabah- your comment on tassels/cords just got to me, so apologies for my response being out of sequence. Anyway, the way de Noailles hung art sounds quite inventive. The criss-crossed red cords def. intrigues me. I don't think I've seen anything like that.

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  14. djellabah- Thanks for the clarification. I'm currently "lost" without my copy of Lewis' book. It's one of my favorites.

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  15. djellabah1:35 PM

    I will see if I can find a photograph of the crisscrossed red cords in the Noailleses' hôtel particulier. Also, I meant to mention that the frame-suspending iron chains used elsewhere were gilded!

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  16. Anonymous1:53 PM

    Truex's apt. has a very settled feeling. I wonder if he knew he would be there only a short time. He sure hung lots of art, for someone who thought he would be moving soon.

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  17. djellabah3:11 PM

    By relatively short time, Anonymous, I mean two or three years, which is about how long Truex lived at the location pictured. After living in one apartment in NYC from 1939 until 1941, and another from 1941 to about 1943 at 38-42 East 52nd Street in NYC, he moved into the pictured apartment not long after becoming the head of Parsons. And he moved to another apartment a few years later. Records and a Truex oral history in the Parsons archives indicate that he occupied a dozen or so residences, apartments and houses, between 1923 and the 1960s, all located in New York City and Paris and the South of France, including a sublet at 925 Park Avenue which he used five months of each year from 1965 until his death. Also, though it seems strange today, a very aged Manhattan lady told me that it was considered quite normal in the 1930s and 1940s for people in a certain social milieu to move apartments every time their leases ran out, sometimes within the same building. This usually took place on 1 May or 1 October, which were generally referred to as Moving Day. According to the "Encyclopaedia of Chicago," for instance, in the late 19th century, reportedly 1/3 of the city's population voluntarily changed residences every year And a lengthy 5 May 1907 article in The New York Times about this practice stated that "It used to be the popular practice among [New York City] tenants to lease an apartment from Oct. 1 to May 1 following, and then move into the country for the Summer, leaving the landlord to work out his own salvation for three or four months with a half-empty house [or apartment]. This difficulty is obviated by making leases run from October to October." Regarding your observation that the Truex apartment pictured has a settled look, any interior can have a settled look if one desires it, for however short a period one might live there.

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  18. djellabah5:40 PM

    Observation that perhaps only a British reader of "Peak of Chic" can answer: re the Truex picture ... what's up with those cushions? Usually I see cushions arranged like this only on sofas in British homes, usually upper-crust ones. Any clues as to this kind of ready-to-relax arrangement? Would a knowledgeable soul in the UK please weigh in? Placing cushions along the top of the back of a sofa has always looked deeply inviting, if slightly odd, to my American eyes.

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  19. Djellabah - that's so strange about people moving every year - 1/3 of the city - wow! never ever knew that. J: wonderful post, as always - I love the chain cords that djellabah wrote about too. they hang from railings above or below the molding so that you don't have to put nails in the walls - you just move the chains along the rod whereever you want the painting and at what height you want it. I love the silk cords too, Buatta uses a lot of cords. And I hate nothing more than a painting hung too high. Wonderful comments and post, as always, Queen!

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  20. Thank you djellabah! I've been wondering the same thing. And you're right- I've never seen it here. Only in photos of British homes. Can anyone shed some light on this? (HOBAC?) Yes, it's a little strange looking, but I like it.

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  21. Joni- I know. I can't imagine moving that often, although I guess many of them had household staffs to assist with the move. If I had that, then I could handle moving that often... maybe.

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  22. djellabah6:08 PM

    Another thing that the article in The New York Times mentioned was that warehouse and storage and moving-van companies made loads of money around Moving Day and looked forward to doing a major amount of its residential-related business on 1 October. Still there were glitches. On 26 September 1944, the Times noted in a headline, "Van Facilities Are Overtaxed by War Work and First Is on Sunday." It also noted that residential leases traditionally expired on 30 September at midnight and that "In normal times ... usually a day or two was allowed to cope with the moving rush." In the same article, the New York Telephone Company "estimated that between now and Oct. 15 it would transfer 17,000 residence telephones." I can't imagine that zippy turnover in telephone transfers ever happening today!!!!

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  23. No, phones would not be transferred that quickly. And what about getting your mail forwarded?? Today, it's just a nightmare!

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  24. Fascinating post, again! Truex is still, after all of this time, so interesting--his taste, and the circles that he traveled in. People still seem to be baffled by how to hang pictures, especially when there are only a few pictures on the wall. (I'm always amused when someone says to me "you didn't hang your pictures at eye level!" (I'm 6'5"))

    In terms of framing, Mark Hampton's tip to vary your framers is invaluable. It guarantees a variety, even if one is inclined to stick with a similar style or color.

    Billy Baldwin echoed Djellebah's comments about the frequent moves (thank you--that was very interesting!) when he described Ruby Ross Wood's frequent moves in the same building. Baldwin was no stranger to moving either--I have photographs of at least three of his apartments in New York and two in Nantucket.

    Finally, do you think that the cushions on Truex's sofa are placed that way to disguise the knobs on the back of the Knole sofa and the gap between the arms?????

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  25. Morris- I was not familiar with Hampton's tip about framing, but it totally makes sense to me! I'm way behind you on photos of Baldwin's home- I only have two!

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  26. Wow, that is all so interesting...the comments are just as good as the post! Love Van Day Treux's apartment, and am loving reading the biography by Lewis at the moment. I am in agreeance that most people hang art way too high. And I also agree that you can make a place look settled quite easily/quickly...beleive me, I've moved so many times now I must be the master of at least that!

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  27. djellabah10:02 PM

    Suzy, I grew up in the military -- by the time I went to college, my family had moved more than a dozen times, all around -- so I am very familiar with a home having to be set up, made warm, and then broken down within 12 to 18 months! Then reassembled again! My mother still has nightmares about it. I, on the other hand, love being unanchored and have much wanderlust in my soul.

    Morrismore, are you sure it's a Knole sofa? Possible, of course, but something about the cant of the arms doesn't ring true to me for some reason. And if Truex's sofa was a Knole, why hide the fact so (to be honest) in such an inelegant manner for posterity?

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  28. Re the cushion thing, my mother does this - it drives me nuts! It is cultural, and is born out of the country house culture. The British of a certain generation sit back and more upright (to sit forward or slouch, ruins the often caned edge of sprung upholstery) and in order to prevent the head (men's hair was oiled in the 19th and in the first half of the 20th century) from soiling the sofa a cushion is used at the top. In middle and working class houses they used doilies as antimacassar.

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  29. Oh, and by the way. Truex's sofa looks to be a Flemish version of a Louis styled sofa, not a Knole.

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  30. Passementerie7:15 AM

    Great post! I have recently become interested in the art of framing - my mother-in-law is a (professional) artist and does a lot of her own framing and the frame she chose for the wedding portrait she did of my husband and I was chosen with such fabulous taste and sympathy for the painting itself.

    As for interesting approaches to hangin, have you ever been to the quirky Galleria Doria Pamphili in Rome? The gloriously crowded walls are humorously arranged with saints looking towards each other in various irreverent and witty ways - truly inspired curatorship!

    Passementerie

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  31. I'm basing my comment on my memory of other photographs of his apartments, which, unfortunately, are in storage (the joys of remodeling!). One had his apartment all in mattress ticking, and if memory serves, and it was a Knole style sofa (I'm not sure I could identify a Flemish version of a Louis sofa, but I will research that now that HOBAC has mentioned that--thanks!) As for the antimacassars, my understanding is that there was a hair oil named Macassar...thus anti-macassar!

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  32. Anonymous10:30 PM

    Morrismore:
    I love that factoid about "antimacassars"! Best thing on this thread. Thanks.

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  33. djellabah3:24 PM

    Macassar oil was not a brand but the solution itself. According to the 1906 "Proceedings of the American Pharmaceutical Association," the oil was derived from the lac or kosumba tree (aka Ceylon oak). "A preparation for the hair has been known since the early Victorian era as macassar oil, against which the common and old-fashioned antimacassar was originally intended to protect couches and chairs, but its origin has for many years been carefully guarded as a secret. The name macassar was probably derived from the fact that the seeds yielding the oil came originally from the Malay Archipelago. Mangkasar is a Malay term properly applied to the name of a people inhabiting the Celebes, although it is now the name of a Dutch seaport in the island. ... Macassar hair oil is made up now according to many fancy receipts. In America an oil of the name is merely a solution of Ylang Ylang oil (Cananga odorata) in coconut oil."

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  34. Well, I had never heard of Macassar hair oil before, but this is certainly quite interesting!

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  35. Anonymous6:11 PM

    Atomically, Macassar hair oil is

    H3=O-N2-N=CH4-C=O2



    (kidding)

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  36. I think that Van traded that Knole sofa with Billy for some Louis chairs that had belonged to Odom. Billy then sold the chairs to his client, Deeda Blair. Van chose comfort over style. Louis chairs, while lovely to look at, are not known for great comfort.

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