National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l'Oeil Painting, October 13, 2002 - March 2, 2003

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery. Please follow the links below for related online resources or visit our current exhibitions schedule.

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 Pere Borrell, del Caso, Escaping Criticism, 1874  This exhibition illustrates the playful and intellectual nature of trompe l'oeil--the artistic ability to depict an object so exactly as to make it appear real. A heightened form of illusionism, the art of trompe l'oeil flourished from the Renaissance onward. The discovery of perspective in fifteenth-century Italy and advancements in the science of optics in the seventeenth-century Netherlands enabled artists to render objects and spaces with eye-fooling exactitude. Both witty and serious, trompe l'oeil is a game artists play with spectators to raise questions about the nature of art and perception.

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.