Staircase Group (Portrait of Raphaelle Peale and Titian Ramsay Peale I) (1795). Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741-1827). Oil on canvas. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

On an unusually large canvas, Peale made one of his rare full-length portraits, showing two of his sons on an enclosed spiral staircase. Its high degree of detail and finish shows that the painting was clearly intended to be a trompe l'oeil “deception,” an effect that Peale never attempted elsewhere. To enhance the illusion, he installed the painting within a doorframe in his studio, with a real step in front.

Raphaelle Peale, Venus Rising from the Sea–A Deception, also known as Still Life–A Deception–Venus Rising from a Bath (1822)

“By 1823, Peale had become an alcoholic and was painting solely to pay his bills–reducing his prices, even raffling off many of his still lifes.  This work, which shows the lighter, fun-loving side of his nature, was done at the end of his difficult life. It was painted by Raphaelle apparently to shock and fool his hot-tempered wife, Patty, who nagged him day and night. This illusion of a naked woman behind a sheet was supposedly so successful that Patty tried to pull the sheet away and instead–much to her husband’s amusement–found herself scratching the canvas.”