ttrompe l'oeil - A French term literally meaning "trick the eye." Sometimes called illusionism, it's a style of painting which gives the appearance of three-dimensional, or photographic realism. It flourished from the Renaissance onward. The discovery of linear perspective in fifteenth-century Italy and advancements in the science of optics in the seventeenth-century Netherlands enabled artists to render object and spaces with eye-fooling exactitude. Both playful and intellectually serious, trompe artists toy with spectators' seeing to raise questions about the nature of art and perception.


This story originated in ancient Greece:

Two painters were rivals in a contest. Each would try to make a picture that produced a more perfect illusion of the real world. One, named Zeuxis [ZOO-ziss], painted a likeness of grapes so natural that birds flew down to peck at them. Then his opponent, Parrhasius [pahr-HAY-zee-us] brought in his picture covered in a cloth. Reaching out to lift the curtain, Zeuxis was stunned to discover he had lost the contest. What had appeared to be a cloth was in reality his rival's painting.





Fra Giovanni da Verona (Italian), Intarsia Illusion of Cupboards, four panels of wood intarsia, 1520: Each conveys the appearance of open cupboard doors a trompe l'oeil effect resulting from the use of linear perspective. The first panel: a Campanus sphere, a mazzocchio, and various instruments of the geometer.
see thumbnail to leftThe second panel: a complex polyhedron which can be constructed by erecting a pyramid of equilateral triangles on each face of an icosidodecahedron.
The third: the Campanus sphere again, along with an icosahedron and a truncated icosahedron.
The fourth:




see thumbnail to rightSamuel van Hoogstraten (Dutch, 1627-1678), Trompe-l'oeil, 1664, oil on canvas, 45.5 x 57.5 cm, Dordrechts Museum




see thumbnail to leftCornelis Gijbrechts (Flemish, c. 1630 - after 1675), Trompe l'oeil, oil on canvas, 101.9 x 83.4 cm, Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent.



see thumbnail to rightCornelis Gijbrechts, Reverse Side of a Painting, 1670, oil on canvas, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. This type of still life painting was known in 17th century Holland as a "betriegertje" or little trickster — the vehicle for playing a practical joke.




see thumbnail to leftAttributed to J. Deutsch (French, Lorraine), Plate, 1774, tin-glazed earthenware (faience), diameter 9 1/2 inches, Minneapolis Institute of Arts.




see thumbnail to rightPere Borrell del Caso (Spanish, 19th century), Escaping Criticism, 1874, oil on canvas, Banco de España, Madrid. In advance of art criticism, this boy (the painting itself) appears to escape his (its) frame.






see thumbnail to leftWilliam Michael Harnett (American, born Ireland, 1848-1892), After the Hunt, 1883, oil on canvas, 52 1/2 x 34 inches, Huntington Library & Art Collections, San Marino, CA.






see thumbnail to rightWilliam Michael Harnett, The Meerschaum Pipe, 1886, oil on canvas, 17 1/8 x 12 1/8 inches (43.3 x 30.6 cm), Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA. See bookbinding.



William Michael Harnett, Still Life with Violin, 1886, oil on canvas, New Britain Museum of Art, CT.



Nicholas Alden Brooks (American, 1849 - c.1904). See counterfeit.



John Frederick Peto (American, 1854-1907), Book, Mug, Candlestick and Pipe, c. 1880's, oil on canvas, 12 1/4 x 16 inches, Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH.



see thumbnail to leftJohn Frederick Peto, Reminiscences of 1865, after 1890, oil on canvas, 30 x 20 inches, Minneapolis Institute of Arts.



see thumbnail to rightJohn Frederick Peto, Job Lot Cheap, 1892, oil on canvas, 29 5/8 x 39 3/4 inches (76.2 x 101.7 cm), Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA.



see thumbnail to leftJohn Frederick Peto, The Cup We All Race 4, c. 1900, oil on canvas and panel, 25 1/2 x 21 1/2 inches (64.8 x 54.6 cm), Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA.



George Cope (American, 1855-1929), Fisherman's Accoutrements, 1887, oil on canvas on board, 42 x 30 inches (106.68 X 76.20 cm), Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH.



see thumbnail to rightOtis Kaye (American, 1885-1974), One Dollar Note with Quarter and Penny, graphite and oil over etching, 2 3/4 x 6 1/2 inches. See counterfeit.



Victor Dubreuil (American, active 1886 - c. 1900), The Eye of the Artist, c. 1898, oil on canvas, 10 x 14 inches (25.40 x 55.56 cm), Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH.



Some pictures drawn by Maurits Cornelis Escher (Dutch,1898-1972), though monochromatic, are noted for their high degree of illusionism. Also see optical illusion.



Duane Hanson (American, 1925-). Also see Photo-Realism.



Paul Sarkisian (1928-).




see thumbnail to leftMark Boyle (English, 1934-), Holland Park Avenue Study, 1967, relief, 238.8 x 238.8 x 11.4 cm, Tate Gallery, London.




see thumbnail to rightMarilyn Anne Levine (American, 1935-), Dark Grey Satchel, 1974, ceramic, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe.





see thumbnail to leftClaudio Bravo (Chilean, 1936-), White Cloth, black conté on paper, 34.9 x 27.9 cm, 1991 Ubicación Colección Particular. See drapery.





see thumbnail to rightClaudio Bravo, Neptuno (Blue), 1998, lithograph, image: 30.7 x 23 inches, sheet: 38.2 x 29.5 inches, published by Marlborough Graphics, NY. This is one in a series of six lithographs, called "Demi Gods": Venus (Black), Vesta (Sanguine), Ceres (Sepia), Eros (Red), Neptuno (Blue), and Flora (Green). This might remind you of the story told above about the painting by Parrhasius. See monochrome.



William T. Wiley (American, 1937-).





see thumbnail to leftDavid Brega (American, 1948-), Colors, 1999-2000, oil on Masonite, 67 x 50 inches, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City MO.



Richard Newman (American, 1948-).




see thumbnail to rightLarry Charles (American, 1951-), Art Rules, oil on panel, 16 x 20 inches, private collection.




see thumbnail to leftMolly Springfield (American, 1977-), Matchbooks, 2001, oil on paper, 29 x 5.5 inches, collection of the artist. See ephemera and philluminist.




see thumbnail to rightMolly Springfield, Three Receipts, 2002, oil on board, 12 x 12 inches, collection of the artist.




When trompe l'oeil refers to a sculpture, it is one made so much like its subject that it might fool the viewer into thinking that it is the original subject. Sculptures by Americans Duane Hansen (1925-) and John DeAndrea (1941-) are painted casts made from models to which real body hair are attached, Hansen adding real clothing and props.


Related Links:



Also see anamorphosis, ephemera, faux, marbling, optical illusion, perspective, Photo-Realism, and still life.








ArtLex Art Dictionary
Copyright © 1996-current year