In this work we have aimed to reproduce supra-threshold perception phenomena, specifically visual illusions, with Wilson-Cowan-type models of neuronal dynamics. We have found that it is indeed possible to do so, but that the ability to replicate visual illusions is related to how well the neural activity equations comply with the efficient representation principle. Our first contribution is to show that the Wilson-Cowan equations can reproduce a number of brightness and orientation-dependent illusions, and that the latter type of illusions require that the neuronal dynamics equations consider explicitly the orientation, as expected. Then, we formally prove that there can’t be an energy functional that the Wilson-Cowan equations are minimizing, but that a slight modification makes them variational and yields a model that is consistent with the efficient representation principle. Finally, we show that this new model provides a better reproduction of visual illusions than the original Wilson-Cowan formulation.