How to Cut Clutter in Gilded Age Style Displays

Want to find fresh ways to display your Victorian antiques and reproductions without cluttering your rooms? Learn how with Impressions of Interiors by Isabel L. Taube et al., which features beautiful Gilded Age interiors painted by Walter Gay (1856–1937).

While other Impressionist painters of his era celebrated clouds and the outdoors, Gay painted chandeliers and the great indoors. As a result, his paintings make available to us “the private spaces of what were often legendary residences,” say curators of an ongoing Frick Museum exhibition. Gay’s wife, a New York socialite, dubbed his paintings “poemes d’interiors.”

gilded age paintings

For more information, read Impressions of Interiors: Gilded Age Paintings by
Walter Gay, by Isabel L. Taube et al., published by Frick Art & Historical Center,
© 2012; visit

When Gay set out to capture the essence of a room, he “often altered details to achieve a desired composition,” according to the book. His method for removing compositional excess to give the rooms new life is fascinating. First, he photographed the Gilded Age rooms. A camera’s lens catches clutter: low-hanging lights intrude the frame and ornate Persian rugs distract from more important visuals. He would then paint from the photographs, editing out the clutter the camera revealed.

Get the Look: Simplicity yields clean compositions. No matter how large or complex your collection, you can use Gay’s techniques to achieve a harmonious, refined décor–even when working with the notoriously grandiose and elaborate Gilded Age style.

Picture-Perfect Décor in a Snap

Let your camera help you get a fresh perspective on how to display your furnishings.

• Take a picture of the room from different angles. Each photograph gives you a fresh first impression of your own home.

• Focus on first impressions. Is any clutter visible from the main entrance? You may have to rearrange furniture to help that china cabinet filled with family heirlooms stand out.

• Check the view when sitting down. Smaller knickknacks often sit at eye level, distracting from the overall impression of the room.

• Avoid clutter where you find it by prioritizing décor. If any objects distract your attention from your centerpiece collection, you will need to relocate them.

• Edit your collections to create clean-cut compositions. You can make harmonious arrangements even with numerous objects if each piece relates to the others, whether in shape, pattern or color.


by Sarah Yoon


Editor’s Note: To learn more about Walter Gay’s contemporaries, visit the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to view the world’s best collection of American Impressionist paintings.

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