Trick of the Eye (Trompe l’oeil)

Wednesday, 17th February 2010 by

Trompe-l'œil, or Trick of the Eye, is a long-established art technique where an artist uses very realistic imagery to create the illusion that the things shown in the image are actually three dimensional.

The technique has been popularised on the Internet in recent years by pavement artists such as Julian Beever and Edgar Mueller, but as far as we're aware, their creations have never lasted long enough to be captured by any of Google's cameras. However a number of buildings around the world have been adorned with large Trompe-l'œil murals, many of which which can be seen on Street View – if you can get to exactly the right spot…

This massive mural on the Lani Nalu Plaza building in Honolulu features Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani, alongside Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing. The figures are shown on a towering wave that threatens to crush three onlooking children.

Mana Nalu mural by John Pugh

From the right angle the effect is so realistic that when some passing firefighters first saw the mural, they actually rushed over to save the children. Don't believe this isn't 3D? Look how the illusion is completely shattered by moving only a few metres down the road!

Mana Nalu mural by John Pugh

Sometimes trompe-l'œil can have practical applications too. In Paris, the Saint-Georges Theatre was transformed from a featureless modern carbuncle into a stylish original building, simply with the addition of some convincingly realistic paintwork.

Saint-Georges Theatre by Dominique Antony

Some of the largest murals in the trompe-l'œil style have been made by Richard Haas, such as at 1211 North LaSalle Street, Chicago, where in 1980 he converted a plain 16-story 1929 building into a gargantuan tribute to Chicago School architecture.

Three sides of the building are covered in trompe-l'œil – here we can see the south face, which uses elements from several Louis Sullivan creations and includes a "reflection" of the Chicago Board of Trade Building in the painted windows.

Homage to the Chicago School by Richard Haas

Another artist working in the same medium is Eric Grohe, who converted the plain exterior wall of a shopping wall into a realistic sweeping vista onto a stunningly realised Niagara Falls.

Niagara by Eric Grohe

However in terms of sheer realism, we'll have to come back to John Pugh, whose publicly visible work we've managed to find in several other places.

Siete Punto Uno (7.1) by John Pugh (created to commemorate the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake)

Bay in a Bottle, Santa Cruz, California, by John Pugh

Standin' on the Corner Park, Winslow, Arizona, by John Pugh

There are hundreds more examples around the world - what other trompe-l'œil murals do you know of?