Published: November 30, 2004
Offering a delight for the senses while simultaneously testing the viewers’ powers of perception, “Feast the Eye, Fool the Eye: Still Life and Trompe-l’oeil Paintings from the Oscar and Maria Salzer Collection” is a sumptuous array of still life paintings on display at the Heckscher Museum of Art. The exhibit, which runs through January 30, spans three centuries of the art form and features 43 works by American and European masters of still life and trompe-l’oeil painting.
Typically, still lifes represent inanimate objects such as fruits, flowers and books. Trompe-l’oeil painting, which literally means to “Fool the eye,” transcends simple still life since its primary objective is to deceive the viewer into thinking depicted objects are real. With perfect perspective and flawless technique, trompe-l’oeil paintings effectively convey the illusion of three-dimensional reality, with life-size objects that seem real. By keeping painted objects relatively flat against the painting surface, they appear to be on top of the picture plane. Intense shadows under their edges only enhance the special illusion.
The still lifes naturally depict their place and period, from the comfortable bourgeois materialism of Seventeenth Century Holland to the polished depiction of nature’s bounty on the part of Nineteenth Century American artists. Still life painting flourished in America, with members of the Peale family among the most highly regarded practitioners – James Peale’s exquisite “Basket with Grapes” is a radiant image of ripe grapes bathed in light. Breathtaking paintings by American painters Robert Spear Dunning and Andrew John Henry Way testify to the golden age of still life painting in the Nineteenth century.
Trompe-l’oeil paintings enjoyed a rebirth in America, where astounding illusionistic feats were produced by masters such as John F. Peto and Victor Dubreuil, who was so accurate in his painting of money that he was once suspected by government officials of counterfeiting the US dollar bill.
Trompe-l’oeil paintings have been a European favorite since birds were tempted to fly through the painted windows of Pompeii, but the genre became a highly developed specialty in Seventeenth century Holland, when artists actually competed. European artists of note featured in “Feast the Eye, Fool the Eye” include the Italian master, Francesco Guardi, celebrated for his images of Venice and the Spaniard Juan de Arellano, who is represented by his wispy arrangement of “Flowers in a Vase. Wall Arrangement,” painted by Evert Collier in 1698, is a tour de force of illusionistic skill.
“Feast the Eye, Fool the Eye: Still Life and Trompe-l’oeil Paintings from the Oscar and Maria Salzer Collection” has been organized by the Fresno Metropolitan Museum, Fresno, Calif., and is touring under the auspices of the Trust for Museum exhibitions, Washington, D.C. Drawn from the permanent collection of the Fresno Metropolitan Museum, the works were originally assembled by art dealer Oscar Salzer and donated by him and his wife when the museum was established in 1984.
The museum is located in Heckscher Park, Main street (Route 25A) and Prime Avenue. For information, 631-351-3250 or www.heckscher.org.
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