While it is still practice in certain circles to commission original portraits of one’s illustrious family members, and hang them in ye hallowed halls of one’s illustrious family estate, the practice is surely not as common now as in the days of yore. And yet hangingportraiture remains as popular as ever. The good news for anyone without a photogenic aunt (or without the budget to commission original art) is that it’s arguably trendier to hang a portrait of a complete stranger rather than to commission one yourself. They crop up all the time at auctions and estate sales and fleas, where they can be snatched up by any passing hipster with a shallow shelf to lean it on.
Pretty? Definitely. Weird? Yeah a little. (A.k.a. the perfect mix.) Here are some examples of portraiture from our archives—by both famous artists and artists unknown—to inspire the placement of your new stranger friend. And if you want to tell everyone it’s a distant relative, be our guest.
A Modigliani portrait hangs above an armchair in the living room of writer Neil Simon’s New York pied-a-terre. Billy Cunningham
A circa-1806 portrait by John Brewster Jr. is set above a Saarinen womb chair in Lauren Sara’s rustic Philadelphia-area house. Michel Arnaud
In a Pennsylvania farm kitchen’s small office area, a 19th-century portrait in its original frame hangs above a desk made of pine and tiger maple. Durston Saylor
In the master bedroom of Brooke Shields’s Manhattan townhouse, an Edwardian oil portrait that was purchased in London accents the wall. William Waldron
A late-19th-century family portrait gazes down on a Louis XVI desk in fashion designer Stefano Pilati’s Paris duplex. Björn Wallander
Portraits by Belgian, American, French, Russian, and Canadian artists decorate a salmon-walled dining room in costume and set designer Alexandre Vassiliev’s Vilnius, Lithuania, home. Deborah Turbeville
In perfumer Frédéric Malle’s New York apartment, a Spanish portrait of a child hangs above a table of his design and a Vincent Corbière bed in the guest room. Thomas Loof
Painted chairs and “primitive portraits” at designer Elissa Cullman’s Cedar Lodge Farm. Eric Piasecki