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20 mind-blowing trompe l'oeil illusions

Trompe l'oeil: Puzzling Realities
(Image credit: Jenny McCracken)

Literally meaning 'trick of the eye', Trompe l'oeil is the technique of using realistic imagery to create an optical illusion of depth. It's been around for centuries, with artists working hard to perfect the skill and food their audiences. Businesses have got in on the act too, with many using the style to create eye-catching billboards and video campaigns.

We've found the world's greatest examples of trompe l'oeil, which vary wildly in style as they are found around the whole world. Prepare your eyes, and prepare to be amazed. 

If you'd like to see some examples of great advertising that won't have your eyes and brain tied up in knots, check out our pick of the best billboard advertising.

Click on the icon at the top-right of the image to enlarge it.

01. Puzzling Realities

Jenny McCracken painted a 3D wall and floor piece for the Dubai Canvas 2016. Puzzling Realities is a mind-bending, in-your-face 3D painting of a unicorn jumping out of the wall, complete with giant paintbrush – and we love it. With many trompe l'oeil examples feeling more classic than modern, it's brilliant to see such a bold, bright example.

02. Pac-Man

Trompe l'oeil: Pac-Man

This piece took three days to create, and the inclement weather was a challenge for the artist (Image credit: Leon Keer)

This retro Pac-Man trompe loeil was created by Leon Keer in the Netherlands, for the Ouverture (an event that opens the cultural season in the region). It took three days for Keer to complete and aimed to create a fun vibe. "It’s a recognisable theme that awakens people’s memories," says Keer. 

Keer also designed an awesome Terracotta Lego trompe l'oeil in Florida, which is well worth checking out.

03. Le Radeau de Lampedusa

Delavie created this trompe l'oeil in Paris to show the plight of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea

Pierre Delavie created this hard hitting piece (translated as 'The Raft of Lampedusa'), in collaboration with the Bureau d'accueil et d'accompagnement des migrants (Reception and Support Office for Migrants) in 2017. This trompe l'oeil depicted a boat of refugees capsizing in the River Seine and aimed to alert Parisians to the urgency of the situation of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. The orginal image was taken by the Italian Navy in 2016.

Talking to French publication Mashable FR, Delavie explained that he was extremely touched by the events in the Mediterranean and that when he saw the image it upset him. He cut it out and kept it, then eventually recreated it on the wall of the River Seine.

04. Wasting Time

Wasting Time was the biggest 3D artwork created in Australia

Created by a pair of chalk artists, Jenny McCracken and Leon Keer, as part of Sydney's Chalk Urban Art Festival in 2014, Wasting Time was a massive 350 square metre work of surreal trompe l'oeil loveliness in which the ground was ripped open to reveal a weird subterranean scene packed with giant children, strange steampunk machinery and much more.

05. Tunnelvision

Despite tales of confused drivers, this enormous trompe l'oeil Tunnelvision has never been crashed into.

This dramatic piece is 50 ft x 75 ft and shows a craggy portal leading to a fantasy moon. Created by local artist Blue Sky, who has more work in the area, it can be found in a parking lot in downtown Columbia. The artist does regular touch ups to make sure it stays as realistic as possible but despite tales to the contrary it has not been crashed into by any confused local drivers.

06. Copenhagen Zoo

This stunning bus wrap is a sure-fire attention grabber

Bus wraps are a new – and mobile – way of sending trompe l'oeil artwork out into the world. This one, featuring a giant snake crushing a bus, will either put you off or encourage you to visit Copenhagen Zoo. Either way, it's a memorable design certain to stick in your head and generate word-of mouth enthusiasm.

07. Floating shapes

Trompe l'oeil: Felice Varini

Swiss-born artist Felice Varini creates mindblowing, geometric trompe l'oeil installations

Felice Varini is a Switzerland-born artist based in Paris. For over 30 years now, he's been creating remarkable geometric trompe l'oeil installations around the world. Painting primarily on architectural spaces such as buildings and walls, each of his works has a single vantage point from which a precise geometric shape appears. Genius.

08. The Crevasse

Don't. Look. Down

German street painter Edgar Mueller is a master of fun trompe l'oeil work – this crevasse piece being a perfect example. Mueller's website is filled with awe-inspiring images of incredibly detailed and realistic street paintings, which include waterfalls, trees and caves. We know this trompe l'oeil artwork isn't real but that wouldn't stop us thinking twice before standing on it.

09. Roundstone St

Trompe L'Oeil: Wiltshire

This trompe l'oeil in Wiltshire is said to be the largest in the UK

Located in Roundstone St in Trowbridge, UK, this trompe l'oeil is thought to be the biggest in the country. The realistic house design, created by artist Roger Smith and Wiltshire Steeplejacks, was installed on the blank wall in October 2003 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Trowbridge Civic Society.

10. Great American Crossroad

Trompe l'oeil: Great American crossroad

This Great American Crosroad is one of many trompe l'oeil pieces created by artist Eric Grohe

Eric Grohe began his creative career as an illustrator and graphic designer back in 1961. Since then, his work has grown in scope and size, leading to the large-scale trompe l’oeil murals he creates today. He uses specialist German paint, which crystallises into mineral substrates and will not fade, peel or blister. Grohe has painted artwork all over the US, including this brilliant piece, titled Great American Crossroad, located in Ohio.

11. The Canebière

Pierre Delavie recreated Marseille's historic high street on the facade of the Palais de la Bourse

A specialist in urban illusion, visual artist, painter, videographer and musician Pierre Delavie is the man behind this giant trompe l'oeil located on the facade of the Palais de la Bourse in Marseille, France. The brilliant scene shows the Canebière – the historic high street in the old quarter of Marseille – passing right through the building.

12. Fresque du Petit-Champlain

Quebec is home to this Fresque du Petit-Champlain piece

Quebec is home to some amazing trompe l'oeil artwork. One such example is the Fresque du Petit-Champlain, which can be found in Old Quebec, at the foot of Escalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck Steps) and along one of the oldest streets in North America. The mindblowing piece depicts depicts milestones in the city's history, from the beginnings of New France until the present day.

13. Honda commercial

Packed full of optical illusions and illustrations, this brilliant commercial for Honda was created by UK ad agency mcgarrybowen. By blending practical elements with cleverly painted imagery, this clip stays as fresh as it is mind-boggling.

14. René Magritte Museum

This amazing trompe l'oeil art reimagines the building facade as theatre curtains

Back in 2009, a new museum dedicated to the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte opened in Brussels. The building that housed this famous painter's work had its facade updated in trompe l'oeil, featuring two side of theatre curtains pleated open to reveal a giant reproduction of iconic work of Magritte: The Empire of Light (1954).

15. 39 George V

The facade of the 39 George V building looked like this throughout 2007

In 2007, the people of Paris were able to take in this view of the 39 George V building. While the structure was being renovated, artwork made entirely of photographs of the original building was manipulated, printed and hung on scaffolding to shelter the rehabilitation. Very cool.

16. Cafe Trompe L'oeil

Can you tell where real life ends and the mural begins?

This detailed piece, by prolific artist John Pugh, is entitled Art Imitating Life Imitating Art Imitating Life. It can be found at the Cafe Trompe L'oeil, in San Jose, California.

17. Pepsi truck

This design is so realistic, you're bound to do a double-take

Trompe l'oeil art doesn't just work on buildings. This Pepsi design, featuring several gravity-defying crates of cola, was one of seven semi-trailer trucks that were painted in the brain-scrambling trompe l'oeil style (others included a fish tank and mobile library design).

18. Derelict building

Nina Camplin transformed a derelict building into a gorgeous piece of trompe l'oeil artwork

This impressive mural, painted by artist Nina Camplin, transformed an old, derelict building in Swanage into an eye-catching piece of art. Specialising in trompe l'oeil, Camplin's website states she is "interested in challenging perceptions of space and creating illusions of faked realities."

19. Arches

Talented mural artist Janet Shearer has created many stunning trompe l'oeil pieces

The career of mural artist Janet Shearer began back in 1983 when she was commissioned to decorate the walls of a swimming pool in Hyde Park. Since then she has created hundreds of paintings, ranging from portraits to landscapes. But Shearer has a particular passion for trompe l'oeil and constantly creates brilliant pieces, including this including this ultra-realistic 'Arches' mural.

20. Siete Punto Uno

John Pugh paints incredibly realistic 3D scenes that delude the viewer

Another piece by artist John Pugh, this Egyptian style mural adorns a wall in Los Gatos, California. His incredibly realistic 3D illustrations trick the viewer's eye into believing the scene is real. Even the woman peering into the ruin is a painting.

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Georgia Coggan

Georgia Coggan is a regular freelance contributor for Creative Bloq, who has also worked on T3 and Top Ten Reviews. With a particular interest in branding and retro design, Georgia writes about everything from logo design to creative technology, enjoys hunting down genuinely good deals and has even used her knowledge as an ex-teacher to create buying guides on products including children's books and bookcases. Tying these design interests together is an obsession with London Underground posters from the last century.