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Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l'Oeil Painting

Pere Borrell del Caso • Escaping Criticism, 1874 • oil on canvas • Banco de España, Madrid • Photo courtesy of National Gallery of Art
Pere Borrell del Caso
Escaping Criticism, 1874
oil on canvas
Banco de España, Madrid
Photo courtesy of National Gallery of Art
Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l'Oeil Painting
WASHINGTON, D.C.  •  National Gallery of Art  •  Ongoing
Trompe l'oeil, the French term for "eye-deceiver," is a modern word for an old phenomenon: a three-dimensional "perception" provoked by a flat surface, for a puzzling moment of insecurity and reflection. The early precursors of modern trompe l'oeil appeared during the Renaissance, with the discovery of mathematically correct perspective. But the fooling of the eye to the point of confusion with reality only emerged with the rise of still-life painting in the Netherlands in the l7th century.

The new genre spread throughout Europe and the United States. Charles Willson Peale's painting Staircase Group (1795), which is in the exhibition, is said to have fooled George Washington. Although based on l7th-century European traditions, American 19th-century trompe l'oeil painting is a genuine American genre and an important link to 20th-century art, especially to American pop art.

Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l'Oeil Painting presents paintings from different periods within each of its sections, showing the surprising persistence of some trompe l'oeil themes over the centuries. The exhibition opens with such works as Still Life with Fruit (3rd quarter of the first century AD), a fresco found in the dining room of the House of Julius Felix, at Pompeii, and among the last works is Eaten by Duchamp (1964), a collage of various materials -- actual remains of a meal eaten by modern master Marcel Duchamp -- mounted on wood, by the Swiss artist Daniel Spoerri.

The exhibition constitutes the most comprehensive treatment to date of this phenomenon. More than one hundred works by masters of the genre, including Europeans Samuel van Hoogstraten, Cornelis Gijsbrechts, Louis-Léopold Boilly, and Americans Charles Willson Peale, William Harnett, and John Frederick Peto, explore the art of trompe l'oeil, revealing its sources in the literature of classical antiquity as well as its impact on 20th-century artists.

National Gallery of Art Web Site

Contact: Tel: (1) 202 737 42 15

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