The Rule of Thirds
One third of the painting above eye level and two thirds under.
That is it.
The rest of the article will explain the why and why I am writing this.
What is the principle of the rule of thirds?
I didn’t create this rule, it’s been around for years, its used in paintings photography and architecture. As a guiding principle in hanging art work it may not be as apparent to everyone. Most people have only seen monumental works in monumental spaces, or at a crowded gallery booth. Here other rules apply due to volume and space available, so one may be excused for not knowing the existence of this principle. This simple principle however is too an extent also an industry standard.
The rule in the Art World
Even in the art world this rule is not always that apparent. I have had to fight for this rule when creating an exhibit. Me (an intern at the Town Hall Collection) and a (distinguished) volunteer where tasked to exhibit the town hall collection in the public spaces. We had hung the work, according to this principle, as all works where hung as such in all the other areas of the Town Hall (except the monumental art work above the fire place in the Mayor’s office). The lady in question was very unhappy with how it was hung and rehung everything higher the following day when I was not there. When I came back, we had a discussion (in very light terms) about the exhibition policy. She was not changing the height and told me this was how they did it in professional places like the Louvre. I deferred to her in status and because of her unbridled hostility towards me. Later that day, the mayor came along and asked us both to please hang it lower, as his mother had complained that the art work was hung too high and it strained her neck. His mother and other pensioners were also the core demographic of viewers. I am not going to lie, this story still gives me pleasure 10 years later.
Over the years however I have seen people hanging paintings on strange heights, not utilizing the space and wall efficiently/aesthetically pleasing.
HIGH: Hanging it higher cause neck strain when viewing the work. Also you rarely see the art anymore and it sort of fades in your periphery, bringing less joy or beauty to your home. The work also fades away in the shadows due to the amount of lighting, artificial or natural available in a house.
LOW: Hanging it lower makes it also harder to see. Then there is that it is more easily damaged. Like by your head above a couch and oil from your hair or gel. Even lower it might be too close to animal, children and adult foot traffic. You can hang it lower in a composition with other works and if you have no young children or animals. leaving paintings on the floor, just creates clutter. Elevate your works. Statues are another topic for another day.
But I want it high
You want to hang it high, yes you can, in a composition of pieces together on one wall. But your house is probably not the Louvre and the piece you bought is probably not four-and-a-half-meter by two-and-a-half meter with excellent ceiling lighting and another seven meters of wall between the work and the top art piece. If your house is like this, make sure you still position your art work, so that you view the work from somewhere through the rule of thirds. For example, placing it in a place where you view it through this principle when you descend your staircase. You still get to view the whole work in all its beauty.
My partner is taller/shorter
What height should I hang the work when my partner is significantly shorter or taller?
Let us answer this with a bit of art history, I heard during a class at Leiden University. Apart from my class notes, I have not been able to verify this story, but it’s a lovely anecdote. In November 1929 The Modern Museum of Art in New York had its first exhibition. It was funded and organized by the wives of the economic elite of New York/United States of America, under the curatorship of Alfred H. Barr Jr.. It contained the works of Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Seurat. Barr, who was 27 at the time, hung the works according to this principle of thirds. The only issue was, Barr was not a particularly tall man, or even at average height. Thus all the people who viewed the famous first exhibition of the MoMA saw the paintings hanging lower than their eye height and would not have deduced the principle I am explaining here. All the works were uniform in their presentation though.
The rule is thus not a rule, but a guiding hand in hanging your art pieces and collections. A guide or rough principle helps keep your presentation of art work aesthetically pleasing. Whether you painted them yourself, bought them or were gifted them, or only have one work or several hundred, having a basic principle in presentation creates a pleasing effect. Enhancing the effect your work has in your home.
The rule of thirds, is just a principle you CAN apply, one which I find works in almost every setting.
So you can adjust the work for an average length in your household or keep to one partner height.
For you who are interested, I am 178cm and my partner is 196cm. We have a house built in 1960, The Netherlands with low ceilings. The art we have hang on my length. I do have art works hanging higher, above our jacket stand and in small nooks in the curve of the staircase. All higher works are viewed from the staircase. We have one work that hangs at the height of my 3 year old son. The previous owners had a hook there and we just utilized it. I can not count the amount of times that art work has been bumped by my hip, pulled off by the baby, fallen during rough play and been ridden over with a toy fire truck. Mind you, I am going to hang it higher right now.
I need more hanging information!
For more reading on hanging your art work check out these links:
I am in no way affiliated with any of these links, but have found them useful.