'A Life in the Year of the Chinchillas' – Birmingham, England - Atlas Obscura

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'A Life in the Year of the Chinchillas'

The ceiling of this shopping arcade is adorned with six trompe-l’œil artworks, including a grim funeral scene. 


Originally built as a cinema in 1910, the Birmingham Piccadilly was turned into a shopping arcade in 1925. Today, locals use it more as a shortcut to the train station than a go-to retail space. But look up as you walk through and you’ll get to see something many rushing commuters miss.

A Life in the Year of the Chinchillas by Paul Maxfield, consisting of five huge panels and one smaller one, stretches along the arcade’s ceiling. Installed in 1989 when the arcade was refurbished, the ceiling murals carry on the legacy of the former picture-house by telling stories.

Each artwork is painted with trompe-l’œil features, something like the optical illusion seen at Sant’Ignazio in Rome. They depict a variety of scenes throughout the four seasons, with the characters breaking the fourth wall and acting as if they can see you. But the series ends on a grim note: with a funeral, in which the illusion gives the viewer the perspective of the buried looking up at the mourners.

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June 27, 2024

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