Salvador Dalí Enjoyed ‘Fooling the Eye’

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dalí Historian


Fool me once, shame on you; fool me hundreds of times….and you may be describing a large chunk of Salvador Dalí paintings, drawings, prints and more.


Take the master of the double-image, add in technical virtuosity worthy of the Old Masters, and you’ve got the recipe for some fantastic illusion with paint and brush.


And that includes the always-fun phenomenon of trompe l’oeil, or “fool the eye.” A number of Salvador Dalí’s works embrace this technique in impressive ways. Some are dramatic, others more subtle.


Let’s look at just a few.


Two that are quite fun are found on the walls of the Pubol castle that Dalí bought for Gala, in which she lived separately from Dalí in their later years. He was allowed to visit her only by written invitation. At least that’s how the story goes. Whether she ever actually penned and sent such a strange invitation is an unknown, at least to me.


One trompe l’oeil work is the “false door,” which shows what appears to be a heavy wooden door opened onto a tiled floor and revealing a background wall in need of a paint job. In reality, it’s all an eye-fooling illusion, as it was painted on the flat surface of the castle wall. “It absolutely looks like a real opened door!” effused Dalí collector Nigel Simmins, who’s based in England, has visited the Pubol castle a number of times, and has seen the eye-fooling false door. He’s a loyal reader of this blog.



Then, in the Pubol castle’s Piano Room, Dalí painted two radiators on a large panel that conceals real radiators behind it! It was a wonderful example not only of Dalí’s technical skill, but also of his great sense of irony and humor.

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In a recent blog post here at The Salvador Dalí Society®, Inc., I wrote about Dalí’s large canvas, “The Sistine Madonna,” alternately known as “Madonna of the Ear.” Dalí’s trompe l’oeil addition to this complex painting appears along the left side of the work, where a string hangs down, attached to a folded sheet of paper and suspending a cherry, whose shadow is cast on an adjoining piece of paper on a string. It’s unreal – literally – because it appears to be photographic in nature, but was masterfully painted to fool the eye.



Two religious paintings by Dalí, neither especially well-known but both beautiful, feature trompe l’oeil. One is “The Christ of Valles,” where the loin cloth area of the Savior looks three-dimensional, as do the drop of blood and crown of thorns. Amazing.


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The other is “The Maid of the Disciples of Emmaus,” 1960, where – in response to the then-modern trend of artists actually tearing parts of their canvas – Dalí painted tears that looked like the real thing, until one gets close enough to see they’re the product of Dalí’s formidable draftsmanship. Brilliant.


Finally, my own personal experience that may not be trompe l’oeil in the traditional sense, but which sure fooled my eye.


It happened in 1973, when I first saw “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” as it hung in the original Dalí Museum in Beachwood, Ohio. As I came upon the large painting from about 50 feet, I noticed the bullfighter’s cream-colored collar button. “Will you look at that,” I remarked to my wife. “Dalí actually glued a real plastic button onto the canvas!”


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As I got up close, of course, I realized with amazement that it, too, was another product of Dalí’s eye-fooling realism.