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Trompe l’oeil

An art technique, trompe l’oeil is most often associated with paintings that use a highly realistic optical illusion of three-dimensional space and objects on a two-dimensional surface. Although it gained currency only in the early 19th century, the illusionistic technique concerning the material reality of the object was applied much earlier on from ancient Greece in the 5th century BCE. Compared to hyperrealism, which represents an object with exact pictorial detail, trompe l’oeil has the aim to trick the viewer into perceiving painted objects or spaces as real; it literally means “deceive the eye” in French.

Daniel Sinsel
Untitled, 2021
Oil on linen
42.1 x 53.2 x 3.5 cm (16.6 x 21 x 1.4 in.)
© Daniel Sinsel, Courtesy of Jason Haam, Seoul. Photo: Sangtae Kim

Edward Collier
Trompe l'oeil with Writing Materials, c. 1702
Oil on canvas
51.5 x 63.7 cm (20.3 x 25.1 in.)
Collection of Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Dutch painter Edward Collier was one of the renowned artists who used the technique in painting. Collier produced many variations of trompe l’oeil paintings using everyday objects, particularly letter racks with newspapers, notes, and writing implements in slight angles to deceive the viewers. Like what Collier painted, most trompe l’oeil artists in his contemporaries depicted the surrounding environment while observing minute details. A sufficient number of trompe l’oeil works also have taken a role to show the appearance of the time, especially through small decorations inside the house.

In contemporary art, trompe l’oeil is still a technique employed by many artists, continuing to open up more space and depth to a flat surface. Los Angeles-based artist, Annie Lapin develops trompe l’oeil style in her works by layering each component such as Adobe Photoshop effects, images from her iPhone, and quotations from her own work on linen. Individual elements in her work make complex illusions of overlay, so the viewers can choose to read distinctive narratives not only through the appearance of figures but also through the forces of space, historical note, or color, depending on their intuitive choice-making.

Annie Lapin
Art of Heads and Hands, 2018
Oil, oil stick, vinyl paint, acrylic and charcoal on linen
182.9 x 243. 8 cm (72 x 96 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Miles McEnery Gallery, New York

Related categories


Scenes of Everyday Life

Still Life

Everyday Objects

Optical Illusion

Reality and Fantasy / Illusion / Imagination

European Art

20th Century Art

Illusory World

Hyperrealist Painting

French Art

19th Century Art

17th Century Art

Interior Spaces

Hyperrealist Photography

Different Perspectives

Op Art