trompe 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.
The 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.
Cornelis 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.
Pere 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.
Nicholas Alden Brooks (American, 1849 - c.1904). See counterfeit.
Duane Hanson (American, 1925-). Also see Photo-Realism.
Paul Sarkisian (1928-).
Claudio 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-).
Richard Newman (American, 1948-).
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.
- Anthony Waichulis Studio is a gallery representing several contemporary painters in the trompe l'oeil tradition.