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...of herself.

"Blue Skidoo! We can, too!"

Paintings are sometimes described as a 'window into another world'. Some series, especially in video games, take this all too literally. A magic painting will contain an entire world or dungeon which the heroes must enter to defeat the enemies within. In some cases, the art style will shift to match that of the painting, emphasizing the otherness of the painting world.

If this gimmick is used more than once, a magic art gallery can be the basis for the Hub Level of a game.

In rare cases, some nefarious ill-doer or oblivious Muggle may attempt to destroy a Portal Picture while another character is inside the painting world. The results vary: if the painting was literally a portal to another world, then destroying the portal will leave the characters Trapped in Another World. The more common metaphysical position, though, is that the painting world is actually formed out of the paint and brushstrokes on the canvas, and by wiping away the painting, the world itself disintegrates.

Either way, the painting may be used as a prison.

A low-tech posh version of Trapped in TV Land. Compare Portal Book, where the art form is literary rather than visual. See also Art Initiates Life.

Examples of Portal Picture include:


  • C's world from Code Geass is not entered by a picture portal, but the memories stored there are displayed in a portrait gallery or library that can be entered.
  • The Throne of Yord from Shamanic Princess appears to be a painting, and characters enter and exit a world within it...But the Throne of Yord is evidently anything it wants to be.


  • In Looney Tunes: Back in Action, a chase sequence in the Louvre involves several escapes into famous paintings.
  • The Mary Poppins movie had a scene of this sort which took place in a sidewalk chalk drawing. The end sequence is interesting, as the background melts into blobs of color because it's started to rain, causing the chalk on the sidewalk to run, thus ending the characters' visit.
  • Van Helsing has a Portal Picture.
  • Deuce Bigalow 2 has a scene were Deuce, high on "space cakes," enters a painting of a Dutch maid and starts fondling her... only problem is, he was actually fondling his best friend...
  • Night at the Museum 2 allows characters to jump into (and out of) scenes in paintings during a chase scene.
  • Harry Potter portraits cannot be entered, but their inhabitants can move freely from one frame to another. This is showcased in the fifth film, when people are tipped out of the frames leaving a blank canvas. It was like that in the books, too.
    • There is also the portrait of Sirius Black's ancestor (Phineas Nigellus Black), who could not only move between adjacent portraits, but also between his many portraits at different places (implying that they only painted him once, and left a bunch of empty canvases with his name). Since he has a portrait in Dumbledore's office, the Blacks' house, and the magical hospital (at least), they use him as a messenger. It is stated that all ex-headmasters of Hogwarts' portraits can do this; presumably other important (or rich enough) people too.
      • The books clearly state that painted subjects can only travel between buildings if there is a painting of that subject in both buildings. It is not limited to the rich and famous. The likelihood that a portrait subject can leave the building and appear in a painting elsewhere is higher for someone famous as a famous person (such as a former headmaster of Hogwarts) would have ties to other institutions and thus be the subject of a painting there as well. The subjects are free to move about each other's paintings within the building they are in, such as Hogwarts Castle.
  • Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Mrs. Tremond and her mask-wearing grandson surprise Laura in the parking lot of the diner with a framed picture of a door of a room of an abandoned house. Tremond says, "This would look nice on your wall." Laura then hangs the picture on her bedroom wall and has the world's worst acid trip that involves seeing herself standing in the doorway in the picture and then entering the picture...
  • Olympus is accessible via a mural in Xanadu.


  • There is a short story called "The Rose Window" where a cleric (also the narrator) in a mild fantasy setting has a large rose window brought to his church from the one where he grew up. Then bad things start happening and members of the clergy start seeing something in the window move at night. Then the cleric comes to realize that something other than his god was secretly being worshiped in the church he grow up in. In the end he plans to smashes it and then destroy his journals if breaking the window fixes the problem. The journal entries are what the reader (you) are reading right now.
  • Rose Madder by Stephen King.
    • His short story "The Road Virus Heads North."
  • In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, this was how they got to Narnia. Quite likely a homage to George MacDonald.
  • The Chronicles of Amber had "Trumps," which were most commonly the size and shape of Tarot cards, but people skilled in using them could mentally communicate (or combat) the individuals depicted thereon. They also facilitated travel across the dimensions at the invitation of the person being contacted, and only in that direction. Trumps could also depict particular locations, which made them handy escape tools. In the course of the novels, it is revealed that it is not so much the materials of which Trumps are composed as the skills of the Trump artist that gives them their powers: two are scribed onto prison cell walls and become significant plot points later on.
    • Later on, we also find two main characters within a Wonderland (as in Carroll) bar that's being painted onto a wall by an artist. The point between reality and mural moves back and forth.
  • Lewis Carroll's second Alice book, Through The Looking Glass, is technically the first example of this trope in literature, in spite of the fact that it was a mirror, not a painting.
  • A variation in the Xanth series: the Sorceress Tapis creates tapestries that function this way.
    • A later book also involved a painting which transported the characters into the world of one of the author's other series.
  • With a Single Spell by Lawrence Watt-Evans, though its portals depict locations elsewhere in the same world, rather than other worlds.
    • Later books in the series show the same magic being used to transport to other worlds and back.
  • In The Sandman, each of the Endless has a family gallery with which they can summon each other to their domain. Most appear to be picture galleries, but Despair has a Hall Of Magic Mirrors and Destiny a garden of colossal statues.
  • The protagonist in George MacDonald's Lilith enters the imaginary world through a painting in the attic on one occasion. The painting portrays the moor where he winds up.
  • One of the Oz books mentioned a picture of a river drawn so well, that when the artist attempted to draw flowers on the other side, he fell in and drowned.
  • The Angel tie in novel Image does this. When a person is under the influence a certain type of magic, they can paint pictures that are portals to the worlds in the paintings.
  • Site Kilo-29, a secret nuclear shelter somewhere in the US, has, for whatever reason, a giant poster of the 2/19th, a US Army base in Germany where a demonic being nicknamed Tandy (after the guy whose body he likes to wear) hunted and killed the narrator's unit every winter for years. It appears that the poster is not just a portal but also the source of Tandy's power in Kilo-29.

Live Action TV

  • Blue's Clues. In nearly every episode, the main characters "Skidoo" into an oil painting for educational puzzle-solving.
    • Hell, they've gone into illustrated books, crude drawings, and even wrapping paper. In The Movie, they even went into a sheet of music.
  • Red Dwarf did it in "Timeslides." Once the pictures (brought to life with mutated developing fluid) were projected on a screen, they were big enough to step into, for Time Travel fun--though you couldn't go outside the frame.
  • In the Charmed episode "The Painted World," a demon is trapped inside a magical painting.
  • An arc on Supernatural Soap Opera Port Charles involved Kevin being trapped in a painting by a magical candle. For him to get out, someone had to light the candle again.
  • A Legend of the Seeker episode had a painter able to out any object or person into a painting just by drawing them on it. In order to get out, the painter had to paint the object or the person on a canvas from within the painting.
  • In the Night Gallery episode "Escape Route," a Nazi war criminal on the run from the authorities in South America takes refuge in an art gallery. He discovers that with concentration, he can project himself into a painting and decides to use this to escape from his pursuers, choosing to enter a peaceful painting of a man on a boat. Unfortunately for him, he winds up projecting himself into the wrong painting, and ends up in a horrific painting depicting the tortures of a concentration camp.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Fear Her", a girl has the ability to convert people into crayon drawings.
  • On The Office (USA), Michael has left Pam with a list of excuses to give when he doesn't want to take a phone call. Her favorite, which she's saving for a special occasion, is "He's trapped in a oil painting."


  • The classic video for A-ha's Take On Me.
  • The video of Enya's "Caribbean Blue"
  • Also the video of Rick Springfield's "Don't Walk Away", although that one may have been a metaphor for the painter's imagination.
  • Jason Mraz's "Not So Usual."

Tabletop RPG

  • The Call of Cthulhu Dreamlands boxed set had an adventure that involved passing through paintings into various parts of the Dreamlands. An adventure in another supplement had the PC's going through a painting back in time to when the Serpent Men ruled the Earth.
  • A number of the Nano Fiction pieces in Nobilis are about these, such as "the Box."

Video Games

  • Super Mario 64 used paintings as the gateways to non-hub worlds.
    • Mario 64 also had a model, an invisible portrait that only appears in the mirror in front, a seemingly normal wall, two small pools of water, a clock's face, and a bunch of small wells.
    • In Super Mario Sunshine, Shadow Mario painted his M symbol on various landmarks all over the place and these became portals to levels.
    • In Luigi's Mansion, Mario was captured in a portrait, and when you finish a big boss fight, you turn all of the major bosses you faced into portraits, the frame color depending on how well you did.
  • Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin had this as one of its gimmicks, allowing players to explore very different settings from the 'typical' environs of Dracula's castle.
  • One of Soul Blazer's early dungeons was contained within a painting.
  • In Atlantis II, stepping through a painting is a mandatory part of the Ireland quest. It's not immediately obvious that you can do that, though.
  • The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Phantom Ganon leaped in and out of pictures.
  • In The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, there was a side quest involving the "Painted World."
  • Shadow Hearts: From the New World has its Bonus Level of Hell (okay, Purgatory) in a painting.
  • Some of the MacGuffins in City of Heroes are exactly this. Being MacGuffins, we never see them in action.
  • The linking books in Myst. The books have a picture window at the beginning which shows the user the world they will be linking to. Overlaps a bit with Portal Book since the book must have a description of the world it's linking to written in it, although it generally links to a place, not a story.
  • In the Death Gate adventure-game, a skilled mage can use a painting to create a pocket dimension.
  • Also happens very briefly in Poshley Heights in Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door.
  • In Final Fantasy VI, the optional quest to find Relm in the World of Ruin involves fighting your way through an art gallery in a wealthy man's house. Most paintings come to life to attack you, but some can draw you into it, effectively acting as a portal.
  • Explicitly invoked in Kingdom of Loathing, in the Haunted Art Gallery. The painting is apparently an Escher drawing, which has links to other artworks ...
  • Used in The Death Gate Cycle at least once, to enter a painting where an elf is held captive.
  • A central point to Legacy of the Ancients, where your character's begins the adventure by discovering a Galactic Museum filled with these. You do most of your traveling trying to get jewel coins to unlock and use the exhibits.
  • The second Azada game does this with the illustrations in Expy versions of several literary classics.
  • A plot point in Dragon Quest V, where a painting of a real-life scene allows the protagonist to travel to it... even going back in time.
  • In Devil May Cry, there are several strategically placed paintings that serve as gateways floating in the air when you return to the castle. Pretty convenient, as several doors have disappeared.
  • The primary setup for Drawn is Iris' ability to create these.
  • Invoked in The Longest Journey, where April's dimension-traveling abilities seem to be tied to her painting talents. The first time she travels to another world without external assistance, she paints the place she wants to go until it turns into a Shift that takes her there.
  • In the Interactive Fiction game Curses, images projected by the slide projector are Portal Pictures.
  • Nellie visits six worlds by jumping into portraits in the hidden object game Treasure Seekers 2: The Enchanted Canvasses, in order to rescue her brother Tom, who is trapped in the last world.
  • In Ib, the titular character enters the painting world through a painting titled "Abyss of the Deep" and can leave it through another painting much later on.

Web Comics

  • Minus does it several times. Here, for example.

Western Animation

  • Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings was a 1970s British animated series (featured in the US on Captain Kangaroo, and later on the Nickelodeon series Pinwheel) which applied this trope to a chalkboard by way of a small boy's imagination.
  • A similar premise was later used for Nickelodeon's Chalk Zone.
  • A Darkwing Duck villain, Splatter Phoenix, has a paintbrush that allows her to enter paintings, alter them, or create surreal helpers based on various art styles.
  • The Chameleon from Super Secret Secret Squirrel did this with stolen paintings for recreation, until the titular protagonist subjected him to and trapped him within modern art.
  • One episode of Jimmy Neutron had the Five-Man Band (With Betty replacing Libby) falling into an alternate dimension due to a long list of exposition that wont be typed here. The first room they enter is a stark white box with one of these on the wall.
  • In a Dream Sequence in the Arthur story "D.W.'s Name Game," D.W.'s deer friend Walter tells her that Thesaurus "dwells beyond the woods." D.W. says that that's a long way away and asks him if he has a picture. He pulls one out and D.W. jumps into it, then breaks the fourth wall to comment "You didn't want to watch me walk through the woods, did you? That would be soooo boring."
  • The Angel and the Soldier Boy was an incredible animation with no words, just music by Clannad. During one sequence a toy soldier and angel follow Pirates onto a ship that jumps into a painting of a sea scene.
  • The Mickey Mouse short Thru the Mirror.

Real Life

  • Many lucid dreamers report that it's easier to visualize a dream scene by hanging a picture beside your bed and thinking of "entering" it in dream.
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