We recently reinstalled the Museum’s permanent collection of American art. A succession of galleries highlight particular time periods in American art history, and these are interspersed with galleries that focus on a particular style, theme or artist, such as Impressionism or folk art. Most of the artwork that was created before the early 20th century was meant to be displayed in homes, and therefore would have been hung on painted or wallpapered walls. In my opinion, paintings from the 19th century look much better against deep, rich colors rather than the cold white of typical 21st-century gallery walls.
There is not much information out there about period wall colors — there are several books on exterior wall colors, but not on interiors. After much searching, I found the book Choosing Colors by Kevin McCloud (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2007). McCloud presents historical wall colors from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, and includes a list of commercial paint colors to match them. Using this list, we put together a set of Benjamin Moore colors for the galleries. The main gallery for each time period and the focus gallery for that period are painted in the same hue but a different value. For instance, the Colonial Art and the New Nation gallery is painted in Wales Gray, and the focus gallery next to it, Federal Furniture and Decorative Arts, is painted in Hemlock.
Here are some photographs of the galleries; the caption gives the name of the Benjamin Moore paint.
Colonial Art and the New Nation: Wales Gray
Federal Furniture and Decorative Arts: Hemlock
Self-Discovery and the Wilderness: Sienna Clay
Portraits of Native Americans: Spiced Pumpkin
Cosmopolitanism and Influences from Abroad: Victorian Garden
American Impressionism: Grasslands
Robert Henri and His Students: Winding Vines
Surrealism and Abstraction: Barley
Repose and Movement: Antique Bronze