“Tim’s Vermeer” (2014)
Have you ever wondered how some artist can make their paintings look realistic that they almost look like a photograph? Well, Tim Jenison, was always fascinated by the paintings of the Dutch Renaissance master, Johannes Vermeer. A San Antonio, Texas based inventor, Jenison, who made a fortune creating digital imaging technology like Video Toaster and Lightwave 3D, decides to investigate if it was possible that Vermeer created his paintings with some sort of mechanical or optical help. Tim feels that the colors in Vermeer’s paintings are too accurate, something that Tim’s own computer technology could recreate. He also concludes that the shadows in Vermeer’s paintings look too life like. The shadows are so realistic that only a device with a lens, like a camera, would be able to accurately capture. Vermeer was known as a master of light and his pictures, such as “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” are known for their photographic like quality.
Tim first investigates if using a series of lenses and mirrors was possible in the Renaissance. With the help of a book written by English painter David Hockney, Tim concludes that using a series of lenses and mirrors a scene could be projected onto a canvas. Even though he isn’t an artist (though he certainly has an artistic eye for things), he quickly learns how to paint almost exact copies of black and white photographs using a technique, kind of like paint by numbers but with light instead. Tim shows this process to both Hockney and to actor/artist Martin Mull, who are astounded at his ability to so quickly pick up the process. Tim tells Mull “It took me about 40 minutes to learn how to operate a paint brush.” Mull replies “Good for you, it took me about 40 years.”
Once he figures out how Vermeer could have done his paintings, he sets out to exactly recreate and paint one of Vermeer’s most famous paintings, “The Music Lesson.” Little that Tim knows that this experiment would take over 200 days to complete.
This is a fascinating documentary from the famous magician team of Penn and Teller. Penn Jillette narrates the film while Teller (who in the magic act is the one who doesn’t talk) directs the film. Penn, who had known Jenison for many years, never knew of his obsession for Vermeer and his paintings. Luckily for us, Penn found out that Tim was going to try and prove that Vermeer used devices to make his paintings more realistic and decided to tag along for the ride with a camera or two.
Tim is an interesting guy, who is very focused on the details. He spends hours making by hand the furniture that will appear in the replication of the room that Vermeer painted. He makes the lenses he will use by hand, grinding away for hours and hours. Even the paint that he uses is based on how painters created their tools during the Renaissance.
The film brings up a number of interesting topics, including if Vermeer did use this sort of cheat system, does it make him less of an artist to do so? Jilette is the perfect narrator for this type of film, using his brand of humor to make the topics a little less heavy in their subject matter.
Tim is such a likeable guy, and it’s fun to watch his brilliant mind struggle to figure out how to do everything. It’s a compelling and funny film that makes what could have been a very serious and possibly tedious topic seem light and easy to understand. A film that will have you looking at painting in whole different light. My Review: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
“Tim’s Vermeer” opens today in Atlanta exclusively at UA Tara Cinemas 4