Category Archives: Research Point

Research point: Trompe l’oeil

Research some of the ways in which trompe l’oeil has been exploited in works of art, especially in decorative schemes.

Although trompe l’oeil which is the french for ‘deceiving the eye’ was used predominately in the Baroque age there are examples going as far back as the Greek and Roman era with murals being unearthed in Pompeii. It is an art form that uses realistic images to create an optical illusion of perspective and three dimension on a flat surface.

Once perspective was fully understood in the Renaissance, artists began to use the style of trompe l’oeil called “i sotto in sù,” which means “from below, upward” they painted ceilings as if they were seen from a true vanishing point perspective, so you think you are seeing a dome when in fact it is a flat surface.

Many 16th & 17th century Jesuit churches included trompe l’oeil ceilings. An example of this can be found in Vienna, the ceiling by Andrea Pozzo although only slightly curved had the illusion that there is a dome

Another form of trompe l’oeil is when a realistic painting is done on a piece of furniture or on a wall for instance a letter on a table or the Violin & bow that looks as if it hanging on a door in the music room of Chatsworth house in Derbyshire see here

Some more examples can be seen here and here

The modern day trompe l’oeil equivalent is 3D pavement art some examples can be seen here and this artists’ work is amazing. Fancy trying to pick up giant cup of coffee in London’s Coventry Garden here

I found this brilliant video on YouTube of a contemporary artist painting a staircase etc on a wall, when he is finished if you didn’t know better you would swear that it was a real staircase and try to walk up it.


Research point: Figure sculpture

The latest piece of art to occupy the 4th plinth in Trafalgar square has been unveiled.   A bright blue Cockerel by German artist Katharina Fritsch replaces Powerless Structures which has been there for the past 18 months.

I know it is modern and we have to move with the times with public art and I did like Yink Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a bottle but I’m not sure about this piece.

It is surprising what becomes popular with the British public.  Here in Liverpool we have a bright yellow ‘Superlambanana’.  It was originally made by the Japanese artist Taro Chiezo in 1998 as Liverpool’s contribution to the ArtTransPennine Exhibition and was an ironic comment on ‘genetic engineering’, at one time bananas and lamb were once a common cargo being imported and exported down at Liverpool docks.   When it was first displayed in Liverpool it was controversial but over the years has become a popular and valued piece of art in the city.

Project-7-objects-in-different-positions-in-the-frame-close-to-edge(c) Susan Devonport

In 2008 as part of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture tenure, 125 two metre high versions were commissioned and became an unlikely hit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(c) Susan Devonport – Baa Nitez Liverpool Football Club manager

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(c) Susan Devonport – Koppy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(c)Susan Devonport – Everton Football Club

One was even dressed up as the Mayor of Liverpool at the Town hall.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(c) Susan Devonport – SuperSgtPepperYellowLambSubmarineBanana


For a time there had been some doubt about the Superlambanana staying in Liverpool when it came to light that it was only on a 10 year loan from the artist, but in September 2008 talks began and 6 months later an agreement was reached whereby a replica would be made by one of the original sculptors Julian Taylor and stay in the city for the next 80 years.

You can see photos of most of the smaller Superlambananas here

I always knew we had a sense of humour here in Liverpool and even Granada Reports got in on the act back in 2008.

It’s been reported ‘Lamby’ has escaped, they think she has been liberated by an animal right group – 54 seconds in.

 Lamby was found safe and sound and released into the wild <img style='border: 0; padding:0'  src='' alt=';)'/>

Research Point: The female nude

Does the female nude exploit women for male gratification? Or does it depend on the context?

I think it does largely depend on the context in which it is used – if it used to convey a narrative in a painting it is ok but when it is just used gratuitously it isn’t. Nowadays we see the female dressed in very little in adverts on tv or in magazines trying to sell anything from perfume to cars.

Why paint the nude?

It’s an essential part of learning anatomy (for artistic purposes, not medical.) If an artist is going to paint a human realistically, then they have to understand all of the shapes that make up a body.

I found this on Ebay

UPDATE 29th September  This artist has withdrawn her paintings of nudes after they where censored by Birmingham Botanical Gardens, I don’t blame her for being annoyed I’ve seen worse on TV.

A textile artist whose blog I follow has had the same experience with some of the quilts she has been making in a series as you can read here and here.  She was approached by quilting magazines for articles but they wouldn’t include any of her quilts that included nudes in them.


Research Point: Portrait sculpture

A sculpture portrays a sitter quite differently than a picture; its presence comes, in part, from being bodied forth in the full dimensions of life, from  space in the same way as real people. That gives it, so to speak, a head start. But not the least fascination of Presence is how such objects come to resemble portraits in the first place, and how they get this potent look of life.

There are a few portrait statues outside St George’s Hall Liverpool

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert both by Thomas Thornycroft.


(c) Susan Devonport

The next 2 are by Charles Bell Birch                            

This statue of Major-General Earle shows him ready for battle.

Major-General-Earle(c) Susan Devonport

Disraeli(c) Susan Devonport

This statue of Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield shows him with the ceremonial garter of the Knight of the Garter worn just below the knee.

The above statues are all from the Victorian era but the following statues are from the late 20th century.  The legendary Bill Shankly sporting a football scarf outside Anfield,  home of Liverpool Football Club


and Dixie Dean holding a football (NB no longer in this position outside Everton Football Club)

Project-6-Fiting-the-frame-to-the-subject-fit-frame(c) Susan Devonport

All these examples show how hard it is to show a subject’s status or achievements in a sculpture compared to a painting.   Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are immediately recognizable to most people but what if the subject of the sculpture isn’t.  For instance in the mid 19th century people would have known that Major-General Earle was killed in the Sudan when he was en route to Khartoum to rescue General Gordon but how many do today?

One of the obvious techniques a sculptor can use to convey the subject’s status or achievements is to include something that is associated with them as in the many statues of Queen Victoria were she is shown holding the Orb and Sceptre.

NB  After I had written this post I re-read the course material and was unsure if I had done this Research correctly but after watching this video from the V & A I realize that there are portrait busts and portrait figures.

Research Point: Pop Art

While researching Pop Art I was surprised to learn that it hadn’t started in America as I thought but in the mid 1950’s in Great Britain. It challenged the traditions of Fine Art by including images from popular culture.

According to this glossary from Tate

“A Still Life is anything that does not move or is dead in other words a Still Life painting usually features an arrangement of inanimate objects and traditionally the objects in the still life would have had a symbolic meaning.”

Still lives have a long tradition going back to Ancient Greece/Rome right up to the 20th century and Pop Art still lives are just a continuation,  although in a simplified form compared with the height of this genre, in the 17th and 18th century.

This is a late piece of what could be classed as pop art from the late 70’s in the Walker Art gallery collection in Liverpool.  Patrick Caulfield has transformed ordinary things into extraordinary things “what we call inspiration results from a careful sifting of everyday experience.”  Where he differs from American pop art is his use of interiors and everyday objects instead of advertising products and popular culture.


‘Still life: Autumn fashion’, Patrick Caulfield, 1978

Leeks in a trug and oysters on a plate (the right ones are very realistic compared to the more graphic ones to the left)  and typical 1970’2 wallpaper 🙂

You can see more of his works on the BBC Your Painting website


Research Point: Van Gogh letters

As suggested in the course notes I went on the internet to find excerpt from Vincent van Goghs letters.  I found this website that has facsimiles and translations of letters from 1872 to shortly before his death in 1890.

This website  has typed copies of the letters

Letter writing in this age of e-mail and texting is a dyeing art but back in the late 19th century it was the only way you could communicate with your nearest and dearest when you were away from them.

His letters give an insight in to how he spent his days and show that even when he wasn’t painting he looked at the world with a painters eye

“There was one white stripe on the horizon with dark grey clouds above it, the rain pouring down from them in slanting lines in the distance, standing out against this was the long row of houses with the Oosterkerk.”

and I’m glad to see that even he had doubts about his own work

“I’ve been drawing again recently, but it was nothing special.”

His early letters  show his deep religious faith and in the London letters he didn’t have a high opinion of English art “English art didn’t appeal to me much at first, one has to get used to it.”

His last letter to his brother Theo is particularly poignant, it was found on his body – a line in the letter Theo van Gogh. Auvers-sur-Oise, Wednesday, 23 July 1890 

“I’d perhaps like to write to you about many things, but first the desire has passed to such a degree, then I sense the pointlessness of it.”

perhaps it gives a sense of his mental health in the final few days of his life.

I’ve read that he had seizures which his Dr diagnosed as epilepsy and there have been many theories put forward over the years including that he was Bipolar (manic depression), had Menieres disease which causes hearing loss and vertigo or was even suffering from lead poisoning   We will never know what caused his mental illness just that he was a great artist who never got the recognition in his own lifetime.


Research Point: Still Life Iconography

Still life paintings can be seen as far back as Ancient Egypt were food and other items adorned the tomb walls in the belief that in the afterlife they became real and therefore could be used by the deceased.

The term still life is a relatively new term only appearing in the middle of the 16th century, before then paintings were referred to as fruit, banquet or luncheon paintings.   By the 16th century food and flowers appear in still life paintings as symbols of the seasons and the five senses.  Vanitas (latin for vanity)images began to appear around 1600 when Dutch artists started to use them. A memento mori is a reminder that life is fleeting.  In Latin it means “remember you must die.”

While researching the iconography used in still life paintings I came across this lesson plan from the Social Studies Department, Collegiate Institute for Math and Science, Bronx, N if you scroll down to page 12 there is a list of symbols and their meanings.

Here are just a few of the obvious objects that I have seen used in still life paintings:-

  • Books -knowledge, wealth, scientific inquiry; also limits of human
    knowledge compared to divine
  • Bread -Everyday life, humility, Catholic host (the body of Christ)
  • Candle – Life is brief, time is short
  • Legal deeds – Trade, business, wealth, also; earthly, temporary wealth
  • Glassware – Wealth, moderation, broken or spilled may imply moderation or fleeting life.
  • Grapes -Religious symbolism or symbolism of purity, can also be symbol of trade (grapes from Spain)
  • Maps – Exploration and discovery, trade and wealth
  • Oranges/lemons -trade (from Mediterranean) or exploration
  • Scientific instruments -Exploration and scientific inquiry, the inadequacy of human knowledge compared to divine.
  • Violin – learning, knowledge or warning against sinful life “The fiddle or violin is alas used more in the service of vanity than in the praise and glory of God.