Friday, July 30, 2021

How to list artwork dimensions

Which way round should the dimensions of artwork be listed when providing information about an artwork (i.e. drawings / paintings / prints)

Height and then width OR width and then height?

There appear to be a diversity of views. My own personal view is that it should always be height and then width.

One of my personal missions in life is to persuade all art competitions and open exhibitions to get their forms right and list the dimensions the right way round! Hence this post!

So I decided to take a look to see if I could prove I was correct - having been irritated, yet again, by seeing artwork on a website with the dimensions listed (in my opinion) "the wrong way round"!

I looked for sources of information from:

  • leading art galleries and museums
  • reputable websites
HOWEVER I also found that there was a different perspective in the graphics and digital image / photography world!

So the answer is "it depends on what your are measuring" BUT 
  • if you're measuring artwork then there is only one right answer!
  • it's different if you're measuring photographs!

According to Art Galleries and Museums

It's height then width and then depth.

I'm listing below the art galleries and museums which were reviewed - with artwork inspected on a random basis. Plus I'm including some images from those websites to prove what I'm saying!

Basically I stopped looking after the National Galleries of the UK and USA plus the Louvre in Paris. I've no doubt there may be some cultural dissension on this matter in places where people read from right to left - but I'm only trying to persuade the organisers of juried exhibitions in the West to get it right. I've not gone for global domination - yet! ;)

Dimensions at the National Gallery (London) - height first and then width
A Young Woman Standing at A Virginal by Johannes Vermeer
51.7cm x 45.2cm

Height first - then width

  • National Gallery (London)
  • National Gallery of Art (Washington)
Dimensions at the National Gallery of Art (Washington) - height first and then width
Haskell's House by Edward Hopper
Dimensions: overall: 34.3 x 49.5 cm (13 1/2 x 19 1/2 in.)
  • Louvre, Paris
Dimensions at the Louvre Museum (Paris) - height first and then width
Self-portrait of Chardin at his easel by Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin

Width first - then height

  • I've not found one yet - but periodically come across this version in commercial art galleries - presumably listed by interns who don't know any better

Useful reference articles

I looked at the extent to which the source of the article had regular contact with the regular art world and/or the extent to which they were websites I've referenced in the past because I found them useful

It's height then width and then depth.

The measurement of an artwork usually refers to the outer size of the canvas, paper, or other material that is the base of an artwork. Unless the frame is an integral part of the work itself, its measurements should not be considered the size of the artwork. The standard is to list the height, then the width. The depth, if applicable, would be listed third.

The standard format for reporting measurements of a print is as follows: Height x Width. For a framed artwork, use this format: Height x Width x Depth.

BEWARE - there are a number of websites which state the dimensions the wrong way round i.e. they contradict how artwork is listed in leading internationally renowned art galleries and museums! 
  • They are usually frameshops or framing related websites - which accounts for how come we get some mess-ups on framing. 
  • Interestingly a number of framing sites seem to treat height and width as interchangeable - which they are when it comes to a frame - but they're not when it comes to a mat for a work on paper.
Hands up all those who've experienced the framer who measures dimensions differently to you - where you got your deep bottom at the side and not the bottom!

Another perspective? Graphics and photography?

I found one article which maintains it's definitely width x height. 
The Graphics’ industry standard is width by height (width x height). Meaning that when you write your measurements, you write them from your point of view, beginning with the width.
I also checked with the software I use for cropping images and all the formats are width x height e.g 16:9 for the letter box image which is used such a lot these days on websites and social media

So the answer if dealing with photography, digital images of graphics is width x height.

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