Now You Know!

How Do Museums Install Paintings?


by Steffi Chappell, Curator and Exhibition Manager

It’s quite a bit more complicated than just picking a spot that looks good, putting a few holes in the wall, and hanging a frame.

Let’s assume we are working with a painting that is 40 x 30 inches. We generally use a 58-inch center line when installing. This means that the horizontal center of the painting hangs at 58 inches from the floor. You find the center of the painting by measuring its height and dividing that in half. Then, add that number to 58 and you will get the height of where the top of the painting rests on the wall.

Next, drill the holes for your hanging hardware. Your painting might be 40 inches tall, but the hardware on the back of the painting is probably not located at the very top of the frame; it’s likely several inches lower. Find that measurement. On our painting, the two D-rings are located 8 inches from the top edge. Measure down from the mark you made at 78 inches and make another mark 8 inches lower.

You need to determine its exact location in relation to the other works you are installing. If this painting is the first in a line of several, you need the distance from the edge of the wall to the edge of the painting, plus the distance from the edge of the painting to the center of your first D-ring. Let’s say the edge of the wall to the edge of the painting is 36 inches, and it is 2 more inches to the D-ring’s center—38 inches. Mark that spot on the wall, making sure you are level with the mark you made for the height of the hanging hardware. Measure from the center of the first D-ring to the center of the second. Our painting is 26 inches. Using a level, measure 26 inches from the right of your first mark and make your second mark.

At home, you probably only have a few paintings to hang, but at the Everson we do this for hundreds of works a year (or in the case of Off the Rack, hundreds of works in a single exhibition).

Everson Museum Preparator, RJ Sturgess demonstrates how a painting is installed. More than 300 objects are hung in the Off the Rack exhibition. Photos by Jeff Macharyas.

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