This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
The effect then produced recalls all the illusion of the diorama. In the case of not a few pictures, taste is best shown in knowing how little frame is necessary. The color of the wall, and nature of surrounding objects must be considered in judging of this. We once saw a painting by a German artist, representing the interior of a Gothic ruin, with a snowy landscape visible through the open archway of the door, and some snow, drifted in, lying upon the steps and stone floor inside. The perspective was exquisite - magical; and the drifted snow upon the steps and floor seemed as if you could lift it off with a knife. The picture was in the possession of an able connoisseur - and how had he treated it! Most people would have put round it a frame proportionate to the value of the picture; that seems to be the usual way - so many inches of frame to a £20 picture, and so many more to one worth £100. Not so with this connoisseur. When we saw it, this gem of a painting had round it a simple, narrow bead of gilding, and was hung upon a wall of an orange-cream color -the unobtrusive frame allowing the exquisite perspective to appear to advantage, while the peculiar color of the wall served to bring out, in all its brilliance, that other fine point in the piece, the snow.
With this warning against having too much frame - which we cannot, of course, shape into any definite axioe, but which will answer the purpose if it makes people think at all upon the subject - we proceed to consider the relation of color which ought to exist between a frame and the picture which it surrounds. Gilt frames are, of all others, the handsomest and most generally applicable, and are especially suited for large paintings in oil. There is but one exception to the use of gilt frames, and that arises when the picture represents gildings, at least, if so near the frame as to provoke the eye to compare the painted gold with the metal itself. For instance, there is a Gobelins tapestry, after Laurent, representing a genie, armed with a torch, near which is a gilt altar; but the yellow silk and wool in which this altar is executed, are entirely eclipsed by the gilt bronzes profusely spread over the mahogany frame by which the tapestry is enclosed. Bronze frames on the contrary, which have but little yellow brilliancy, do not injure the effect of an oil-painting which represents a scene lighted by artificial light, such as that of candles, torches, a conflagration, etc When black frames, such as ebony, detach themselves sufficiently from an oil-painting, they are favorable to large subjects; but when they are used, it is necessary to see if the contiguous browns of the painting or drawing do not lose too much of their vigor.
Many landscape-paintings in oil are well set off by a gray frame, particularly if we take a gray tinted with the complementary (or opposite) of the dominant color of the picture. For black engravings and lithographs, gilt frames suit perfectly, provided a certain breadth of white paper be left round the subject Frames of yellow wood, such as Bird's-eye Maple, etc., likewise accord well with lithographs; and it is possible greatly to modify the appearance of the drawing by mounting it on tinted paper, when we do not desire the effect of a white margin.
As to the hanging of pictures in a room, we only repeat the general canon when we say, that engravings and plain lithographs should not be placed beside oil-paintings or colored drawings. When we wish to place pictures upon a papered wall, the latter ought to be of a single color, if possible - if not, of two tones of the same color-and with a simple pattern. Also, the dominant color of the paper-hangings ought to be complementary to the dominant color of the picture. Pearl-gray, or normal gray a little deeper, is a good tint to receive engravings and plain lithographs in gilt or yellow-wood frames. Yellow hangings can receive with advantage, landscapes in which greensward, and leaves, and a blue sky predominate; and the most suitable frames in this case are those of violet-colored ebony, (palixandre), or wood painted gray or black. Oil-paintings, in gilt frames, are effective on walls of olive-gray; upon which ground the flesh-colors of the picture, and the gold of the frame, assort well Papers of a deep green, and even of a deep blue, may likewise be advantageously employed in many cases.
We know one artist, whose drawing-room wall, covered with oil-paintings in gilt frames, has a flock-paper of deep green, the velvet pattern being of nearly equal extent with the smooth ground, but of a darker shade. The effect is very good. Had it been a picture-gallery, the paper would have been unquestionably better if of a perfectly uniform color; but by having it patterned, and of two shades of the same color, the requirements of a drawing-room are answered with the least possible detriment to the effect of the pictures.
So much for the mechanical accessories of the Fine Arts, whether these be exhibited in a noble gallery, or in the houses of our middle classes. In coming to the furniture of our dwellings, it must be confessed that, so innumerable are the possible combinations of color, it is impossible to lay down many laws of general application. In large rooms, bright, contrasting colors may be employed; whereas, in small rooms, the harmony should be not of contrast, but of analogy; in other words, the furniture of small rooms should in general have but one predominant color, and the contrasts exhibited be only those of tone. On this principle, hangings with varied and brilliant colors, representing flowers, birds, human figures, landscapes, etc, may be employed in the decorating of large rooms; whereas, chintzes are only suitable to small rooms, such as cabinets, boudoirs, etc. In bed-rooms, the window-curtains and those of the bed should be similar; and if there be a divan, it may be similar also; for we may remark, that it is conformable with the object of boudoirs and similar places, to diminish their extent to the eye, by employing only one material for the hangings and chairs; instead of seeking to fix the eye upon many separate objects.