Trompe L’oeil through Hunter’s Cabin Door

One of my favorite parts of painting is the introduction of trompe l'oeil.

I thought it would be easiest if I explain this technique through one piece. I also want to talk about this because I think it's an element in painting that most people find intriguing!

Trompe l'oeil, or 'trick of the eye,' is the creation of an optical illusion — making an element on the canvas appear real, or appear to jut out at you.

I'm not just talking about something appearing to be real, like a painting rendered so realistically you think it's a photo, but a real trick of the eye. (A famous example is Andrea Mantegna's oculus in Mantua.)

Hunter's Cabin Door is an excellent example.

What makes this such a compelling example is that it appears to be trompe l'oeil in twofold.

The bolts and indentation for a latch force the eye to believe that a real door is the 'canvas' for the artwork.

But in reality the artist, Richard La Barre Goodwin, rendered the entire piece on canvas. The latch and bolts aren't real. I was honestly tricked the entire time I spent time looking at this painting until I read the description placard a second time and focused in on oil on canvas!

The trome l'oeil of this painting is most easily seen in the individual elements.

First, Goodwin cuts the bottom of the painting with hardwood flooring, providing a realistic context for the door so that it isn't floating in space. A pair of boots and the butt of a hunting rifle are propped against the door and lead the eye up to the rest of the scene.

Second, Goodwin includes a shadow for each item in the scene — creating a light source and tricking the eye to believe that the birds, rifle, boots, hat, bag, whistle, and letter are real, physical items.

An artist's ability to push figures and objects in a painting off of the canvas in a way that forces the eye to believe they're real and can be taken is the true essence of trompe l'oeil.

The artist has thus made you, the viewer, believe that what you see is real and is being pushed into your space, or breaking the fourth wall if you're familiar with performing arts.

Without falling into the realm of metaphysics (which is way over my head), the artist simultaneously pulls you in to their expertly crafted false reality.

When executed correctly, your eyes and brain are momentarily confused by the blurred lines of actual and false reality.

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