Nicolaas Matsier

The Eye Deceived

De kunst van de trompe-l’oeil

The art of the trompe l’oeil

A trompe l’oeil is an artwork that tries not to look like an artwork, a deceptive, realistically painted representation designed to fool the observer. So for best effect a trompe l’oeil is not hung in a frame but discreetly positioned where it will merge with its surroundings. Remarkably, given the prolific production of pictorial practical jokes in the Low Countries, Nicolaas Matsier is the first person to write a Dutch monograph about this maverick genre of European painting.

The trompe l’oeil enjoyed its greatest popularity during the Renaissance, but Matsier shows us a wide range of works from all periods, including the twentieth century. He has selected 125 trompe l’oeils from museums worldwide, interrelating facts about the artists and their work with his own personal observations. They include a painting of a book of hours with, or so it seems, a flower pinned to it, a bookcase that makes you want to pull out a book, a fly you want to bat away from a painted portrait, a notice board covered in letters and bills.

Some artists conjured up whole rooms. Rembrandt’s pupil Samuel van Hoogstraten painted life-sized pieces of domestic decor, and unsuspecting visitors thought they were looking at rooms and cupboards they could walk straight into. Even more ambitious were the grand interiors leading out onto spacious verandas beyond which stretched arcadian landscapes, or entire towns. Baroque architecture features ceilings on which the heavens stretch away, infinite and glorious.

With their sophisticated trompe l’oeils artists managed to mislead people and even animals. One of the most striking examples is a small masterpiece by the Dutch painter Cornelis Gijsbrechts. It portrays the reverse side of a framed painting. An unsuspecting visitor would pick it up, turn it around and see to his embarrassment that he had been duped. The Eye Deceived is a seductive book about that unique instant of artistic pleasure, the instant when you are fooled into reaching for an apple from a painted fruit bowl, waving to a painted figure at a window, or trying to pull aside a curtain made of paint.

  • A subject rarely touched on by art historians
  • With the eye of a literary author, Matsier makes comparisons across the centuries, connecting Rembrandt and Vermeer with contemporary street artists like Julian Beever or graffiti artist Banksy
  • Includes an appendix full of tall stories about deceivers and the deceived

Matsier’s book is a wonderful guide.

NRC Handelsblad

Extremely informative culturalhistorical glimpses.

De Volkskrant

A brilliant book. With great affection and sound documentation, Matsier describes numerous trompe l’oeils.

Het Parool

The Eye Deceived is a splendid piece of work, the product of a lifelong passion.

Nieuwsblad van het Noorden

Nicolaas Matsier

Nicolaas Matsier (b. 1945) has published several collections of short stories, novellas and novels, such as Closed House and The Forty-eighth Hour. He has translated works by Stefan Themerson and Xenophon, among others. He was editor of the magazine Raster and writes for de Volkskrant, NRC and Vrij

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Het bedrogen oog. De kunst van de trompe-l’oeil (2009). Non-fiction, 255 pages.
Words: 65,000

With illustrations in colour and black-and-white, and references


De Harmonie

Herengracht 555
1017 BW Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 624 51 81
Fax: +31 20 623 06 72

[email protected]

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