Trompe L'Oeil

Trompe L'Oeil (pronounced 'tromp loy') means 'trick the eye' in French and refers to the particular style of painting whereby the artist creates an illusion of space and paints an apparently three dimensional image on the wall within the context of the surrounding architecture.

Trompe l'oeil painting is not new! Although the Greeks invented it, it was the Romans who developed it to enhance their living spaces, making private homes appear grander and more spacious with the use of extraordinary theatrical illusions to adorn bare walls.

The phrase originates in the Baroque period, when it refers to perspectival illusionism, trompe-l'œil dates much further back. It was (and is) often employed in murals. Instances from Greek and Roman times are known, for instance in Pompeii. A typical trompe-l'œil mural might depict a window, door, or hallway, intended to suggest a larger room.

A version of an ancient Greek story concerns a contest between two renowned painters. Zeuxis (born around 464 BC) produced a still life painting so convincing that birds flew down to peck at the painted grapes. A rival, Parrhasius, asked Zeuxis to judge one of his paintings that was behind a pair of tattered curtains in his study. Parrhasius asked Zeuxis to pull back the curtains, but when Zeuxis tried, he could not, as the curtains were included in Parrhasius's painting-making Parrhasius the winner.

Trompe l'oeil distinguishes itself from ordinary decorative painting by its intent to deceive, and it is this which sets it apart from ordinary still-life painting. The artist's technical ability is meant to go undetected and, with use of perfect perspective, cleverly observed light and realistic colours, the 'trick' is to make the onlooker believe that a flat surface is not flat, or that a space exists where there is no space.

A trompe l'oeil painting is one which shows apparently three dimensional objects and spaces in a way which the eye accepts as realism in the context of their surroundings.

Although trompe l'oeil is a visual joke, the joke is only effective if you do it really well.


The Violin door in Chatsworth House

The Violin door in Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.

A trompe l'oeil in knaresborough

A trompe l'oeil in knaresborough, North Yorkshire.

Another form of trompe l'oeil was used in the days of Window Tax.

Window Tax notice

Window Tax trompe l'oeil


Window Tax trompe l'oeil

Window Tax trompe l'oeil
trompe l'oeil on building