Trompe L'Oeil Watercolour
17" x 21.5"
This visually and thematically striking watercolour by Julian Clarence Levi (1874–1971), is signed and dated by the artist (1904), and is inscribed with the words vue du dos, which translates to “view of the back.” This artistic choice is an example of the ancient illusionistic device known as trompe l’oeil, which uses realistic imagery to manipulate one’s vision. Born in New York, Levi attended the Columbia School of Architecture and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, after which, he co-founded an architecture practice for which he designed commercial and private residences from 1907–1962. His passion for architecture went beyond his artistic career and extended into philanthropic work, since he also founded a committee to provide work for architects during the Great Depression and earned several honorary and educational positions. His deep knowledge of architecture heavily influenced his art as many of his artworks include watercolour views of church interiors, as well as some land and seascapes. This image is rare in Levi’s handling of a biblical subject. The Massacre of the Innocents under King Herod – a genocide of children in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus – is here shown taking place within a fantastical architectural setting of columns supporting pointed arches and crenellated structures. Rendered in eye-catching deep oranges, reds, and blues, the aesthetic of this image echoes the emotional intensity of the subject matter.
At this time in France, the second Tour de France bicycle race was held in 1904. This iteration of the multi-day competition was strife with controversies and scandals. Multiple competitors were accused of taking trains during the race, and nails and broken glass were spread on the road to slow down certain cyclists. Henri Cornet (1884–1941), originally the fifth place finisher, was awarded the victory four months after the race, as the other top ranking competitors were all disqualified for various reasons.