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  • Writer's pictureGabrielle Turnbull

'Trick of the Eye' Art

This wonderful art form is not a skill that can be learned in half-a-dozen art lessons.

I saw an old newspaper article recently that caught my attention. The reason it was significant is that one of my very long-term students had just shared a photo relating to the article. At the end of last year, this student finished tuition with Art So Lively after 9 years!!


She is now a young adult studying architecture, but still very interested in all things artistic. In her spare time she had painted a scene on her parents’ back verandah. On a plain wall, she had created the cutest optical illusion of a rustic doorway and plants; it added such interest to the outside space!


Now, this headline stated: “Paint It like It isn’t”, and this is just what Sarah had accomplished using an old technique called “Tromp-l’oeil” - a French term for painting the illusion of three-dimensional objects (super realistically) on unconventional two-dimensional surfaces, with the intention of “tricking” the viewer into thinking these objects are really there. It’s not a new practice, having its origins date back to Greek and Roman times. Fascinating!


The 17th century master-painter, Caravaggio, used the technique in his painting entitled Supper at Emmaus, where he painted the guests leaving the canvas and coming into the viewers’ space. Pere Borrel used it very effectively in 1874 in his painting Escaping Criticism [see picture]. In fact, Trompe-l’oeil painting became very popular, with 17th century Dutch and Flemish painting schools embracing the art form with relish. Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstratten became known as a master of this art form by publishing his book The Visible World.



More recently, the art form was used in the classic film Singin’ in the Rain, showing Donald O’Connor dancing up a wall, which in effect was created by the film producers using a large Trompe-l’oeil mural. Interior decorators sometimes employ skilled artists to add exciting, quirky illusions of things that are not present in an otherwise ordinary interior space. Some tourist attractions also use large-scale illusory art , which allows visitors to ‘selfie’ themselves within fantastic scenes.


Please note this wonderful art form is not a skill that can be learned in half-a-dozen art lessons. It’s a painstaking process that requires a high level of skill and oodles of patience to “trick the eye” of the viewer into truly believing one is looking at three-dimensional reality, rather than a two-dimensional image.

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