A contest was held in ancient Greece between rival painters to see who could create a painting that reproduced a perfect illusion of the real world. Zeuxis, painted a likeness of grapes so natural birds flew down to pick at them. His opponent, Parrhasius, presented a painting covered with a cloth. When Zeuxis tried to lift off the cloth to see the painting behind it he was stunned to discover that the cloth, in reality, was his painting. And so, “Trompe l’oeil” was born.
Trompe l’oeil is a French term that means trick of the eye. The illusion was first used in ancient Greece to render spaces with eye fooling precision, like some of the architectural vignettes at Pompeii. Where space was limited the artist created doorways and halls that didn’t exist, but made the space seem larger, as the use of mirrors often does. With the discovery of linear perspective in 15th century Italy and advances in optical sciences in 17th century Netherlands, artists could render objects and spaces in three dimensions.
The nature of art and perspective became whimsical – what was hidden and deceptive was very often surprising and provocative. Trompe l’oeil even suits the psychological nature of most contemporary art today. From faux fur to murals, set decoration and sculpture, this inventive style which simulates depth, imitates wood, metal, lacquer, tile, straw and velvet, is a designer’s dream game of substitutes. Donald O’Connor’s famous running up the wall scene in “Singing in the Rain” and Wile E. Coyote’s painted train tunnels that the Road Runner races through are a few of the diverse uses of this medium.
The show at Les Arts Décoratifs invites you to participate in the trick of the eye. So as not to give away any of the exhibition, I have included tromp l’oeil photos from different villages in France where one wouldn’t normally expect to see them. They are rendered with a meticulousness that is beautifully faultless.
The Trompe l’oeil show at the Study Gallery at 107 rue de Rivoli runs through January 2014. The hours are Thursday through Sunday from 11-6 and Thursday evening till 9. The gallery is closed on Mondays.