Tuesday, July 29, 2014

More Thoughts on Richard Neas

Most of my blog posts about designer and muralist Richard Lowell Neas have focused on Neas's penchant for and proficiency at trompe l'oeil decorative painting rather than his decorating. That's not to say that Neas was not a talented designer, because he was. Neas's interior design work, which was frequently imbued with an unassuming elegance, reflected his innate flair and taste. And it's that flair, I think, that comes through brilliantly in his trompe l'oeil work.

Trompe l'oeil painting tends to be of two varieties. One type is an attempt at mimicry so realistic that one has to touch and inspect the work to determine if it's real or not. Neas was a master at this type of painting, able to make wooden floors look like they were made of centuries-old stone and wainscoting appear to be carved of real marble. And yet, Neas could just as easily execute the other kind of trompe l'oeil painting, which is realistic-looking up to a point and meant to fool somebody in a "wink, wink" fashion. This is the kind of painting at which Neas really excelled.

Take, for example, his work in the yellow dining room below.  At first glance, one might think the walls are embellished with elaborate treillage and wainscoting.  But blink once and look again and one realizes fairly quickly that the trellis, delftware and brackets are really decorative illusions.  The same goes for another Neas project, which featured cabinet doors painted with faux paintings of the china stored within the cabinet.  The value of this kind of decorative painting lies more in its ability to charm rather than to fool.  And charm is something that Neas's work had in spades.

Image at top: Neas's Manhattan apartment, c. 1983, featured a mirrored panel on which Neas painted trompe l'oeil curtains.

It was Neas who designed Brunschwig & Fils's Bibliotheque wallpaper, one of the all-time classic trompe l'oeil papers.

In the Philadelphia dining room of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Gross, Neas painted the room's treillage, delftware, brackets, and delft-tile fireplace surround in the trompe l'oeil manner.  I assume that he was also responsible for the painted floor.  To be frank, I think that the floor was less successful than the room's other decoratively-painted flourishes.

For Mrs. Charles Engelhard, Neas painted the doors of this china cabinet with trompe l'oeil images of her Rockingham china.

In his own house in France, Neas painted the wood floors to simulate stone.  He also painted the chandelier in a delft finish.


  1. With the floor, the colours should have been solid, and using a classical pattern.
    Studying the colours in the photograph (via laptop) they instantly remind me of ribbon candy.
    Maybe Mr & Mrs Gross liked it for it's unexpectedness?

  2. A brilliant talent. Love his own trompe l'oeil floors to simulate stone! Adore that particular room!

    The Arts by Karena

  3. Thank you for this fascinating post. Mr. Neas is a remarkable talent!

  4. He is unequaled. Such amazing vision. Thank you.

  5. In the dining room of the Gross residence, the lighting for the photography makes everything so equally viewable that it creates an unnatural emphasis on the floor. I could be mistaken, but my guess is that the swirling shell pattern is a painted floor cloth rather than a painted floor.

  6. I love this old vintage look. Especially the look of his house in france, the table cloth and crockery ate just devine!