Trompe l’œil – tricking the eye
Trompe l’œil painting is the art of painting to confuse or trick the eye that the subject matter is real. The name comes from the french:
There are many famous examples of trompe l’oeil but as a style it hasn’t the cashet of say Impressionism or Surrealism. You can see a great example of trompe l’œil at Chatsworth House located in central England in the Peak District in Derbyshire. This painting was executed by Jan van der Vaardt (1653–1727), in oils somewhere around 1674–1724. Jan van der Vaardt was a Dutch painter of portraits, landscapes and trompe-l’œil who was active in England for most of his career.
TROMPE = trick
and (spelled correctly), L’ŒIL = the eye.
Trompe l’œil doesn’t have to be of an object. In one of the paintings below (the Walt Disney room) the window with the curtain and a view is a trompe l’oeil. On the home page I put an example of trompe l’oeil sign writing. In this case the letters seemed to hover in front of the wall. The landlord of the Golden Anchor was asked dozens of times how the letters had been fixed to the wall. He always replied “ask him – he painted it”.
Trompe work (as it is known in the business) only ever works from a small angle of view. Think of the violin above. If you were standing by side of the door it wouldn’t fool you at all.
The trompe l’oeil painter has to have a lexicon of techniques. One has to know how to paint wood grain, and study the difference between, say, mahogany and pine. Both those woods will have completely different techniques. The same goes for reproduction marble.
Three small trompe l’oeil wall paintings
The paintings above are small trompe works. The first and third in houses, the second in a bar. They don’t take long to paint but do remember that they have to be drawn out first and then applied to the wall. The drawing out is done in my studio and then I come and transfer it to the wall and paint.
Tricky trompe l’oeil toilet seats
The above trompe l’oeil are painted directly onto toilet seats. They were painted to commission except for the “contents of a handbag” which I painted as a wedding present for some friends. With this type of painting the money is in the details. Naturally the handbag seat took much longer to execute than the remainder. I painted many of these in the 1990s. They made fun, original gifts.
To enhance the effects of the trompe l’œil I also used 3 different varnishes. The seats are varnished in high gloss and the images locally varnished with matt or satin sheen varnish. This technique helps lift the painting from the background.
Confusing corner cupboards
The above cupboards are painted corner cupboards. The face of the cupboard is made of medium density fibre board (MDF) that I profiled to the required shape. I then painted the trompe l’œil on. In some the cupboard is obvious as in the cat cupboards, the are what they are with a cat on top. The hinges and lock holes can be seen. In the case of the parrot and the bee hive the hinges are not as easily seen and the cupboard does not retain its cupboard look. In the parrot cupboard the hinge is on the left hand side and is disguised as one of the bars of the cage.
Walt Disney room trompe l’oeil
In this mural the whole room was painted in a trompe l’œil style but with cartoon figures. The doors are all shut and the window doesn’t exist, neither does the stair case down which Donald Duck is running.
This mural was painted for a child’s bedroom and took approximately 3 months to complete. The doors are completely flat and the panels do not exist but were painted on the doors in perspective.
As you can imagine, work like this does not come cheaply
Below are two details of the painting
The jungle room
This mural is not strictly a trompe l’œil. However there are elements in the design that are, and for that reason I have included it here.
The crashed plane was built by a carpenter friend and in actual fact is the child’s cupboards, drawers and school desk once the doors are opened.
The wood work is real and part of a 15 century house. The mural was painted in between the wooden structures.
The tail of the plane is a cupboard where school books were kept and the tail-plane is the desk. The wing with the letters G-1FC is the door to a wardrobe.
We also painted a bed for this room and made it look like broken crates with contents spilling out and with lizards and insects wandering over the surface. Unfortunately I never got photos of it.
Blanket boxes or toy boxes
These trompe l’œils are painted on blanket or toy boxes. In these cases I supplied the box on which the painting is done but if you have a box that you would like decorated in a similar style to this – that’s usually ok too. Plain boxes work best. Objects that have mouldings or fielded panels limit what can be painted because the furniture’s features can frequently “break” the composition that would trick the eye.
In the case of the wooden boxes, I also included small objects on the top. The rabbit box has a couple of carrots and the duck box a piece of bread. The blue box is a wooden box but it was first finished with an antique type paint finish and traditional decoration.
Painting trompe l’œil on furniture
The painting on the secretaire was first started by applying a “drag spatter finish in two colours over a base coat. The panels in the door were then painted to look like shelves with books and finally gloss varnished with diamond leading painted over the top. The whole effect gives a glazed bookcase to flat wooden doors. As a bit of fun a piece of paper was then painted to look like it was hanging out of the drawer.
The child’s school desk was painted with the sort of objects that you’d expect to find in or on a child’s desk. The book included logic puzzles. I painted the answers to the puzzles on the back of the desk.
The secretaire was a commission and the client supplied the furniture in poor condition. I had to “make good” the piece before painting began. The school desk I acquired from a sale of old school furniture from an Irish school that was updating their equipment.
Realistic birds – for fun
These birds were painted for fun more than anything. They are all about life size. The golden pheasant was donated to the Irish Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to raise money for their charity. It came equipped with a stake so that the bird could be planted in a garden to appear as if it was strutting across the lawn.
The peach faced love bird was photographed attached to a branch in the garden. If you look carefully you can see the rubber bands holding to the real branch.
The red lorikeet was painted for a friend that kept loris, budgerigars and parakeets and didn’t have a red lori.