Jul 012014

Tim's Vermeer

17th century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer painted some truly extraordinary works. At a time when photography was yet to be invented, he managed to created photo-real paintings. How was it that he was so ahead of his peers? Tim Jenison, a Texas-based inventor had a theory. This film is a document of his unbelievable experiment. Review of Tim’s Vermeer after the jump.

Vermeer is said to be one of the world’s greatest artists. His incredible photo-real paintings have delighted and mystified the art world for centuries. Unlike his peers of the time, there are no records of Vermeer being an apprentice or undergoing formal training. X-rays of his paintings don’t betray his work – there are no pencil trace lines or sketches. So how exactly did he do it? Was he a one of a kind genius who could see colour and light differently from the rest of us? Could he transport an image from his eye to the painting like no others? Well, kind of. That’s what Tim Jenison thinks anyway.

Jenison, an inventor and early visionary in desktop video imaging has a foundation in the science of visual art, mostly in the digital sense. Jenison is not a painter, but he does have a keen eye and a hankering to know how things work. Astounded by the level of detail and photo realistic light in Vermeer’s painting, Jenison wondered, how exactly did he do it? Surely this wasn’t painted just by sight. And thus, he set out to discover the secret to Vermeer’s incredible talent. Over eight years, through many trips abroad, consultations with academics and artists, a lot of money and thousands of painstaking hours, Jenison set about proving the theory that Vermeer painted with the aid of optical tools.

The commitment Jenison showed to try to prove his theory was incredible. It takes a special person to have the mental capacity to see such a demanding project through to its end, and while he admits he may have given up if it wasn’t for the film, his desire to know exactly how Vermeer did it saw him through. Narrated in part by friend and co-producer Penn Jillette, the film is infused with both interesting art history and theory and personal quips about Jenison. An original classic score tinged with mystery by Conrad Pope is the perfect accompaniment to the artistic adventure. At 80 minutes long the film is extremely economical and its editing is sharp, particularly the scenes showing the process of the painting.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to come from Jenison’s experiment is the discussion of art vs technology/science. Is art still art if is created with the aid of technology? Why should it be considered cheating? Isn’t creation, creation? Photography is a science yet we also consider it art, therefore is there any reason that painters can’t also be scientists? It’s a fascinating discussion and I have no doubt that Jenison’s experiment ruffled more than a few feathers in the art world.

You don’t have to be an art fan to enjoy Tim’s Vermeer, just someone who asked at least once in their life, “how did they do that?”



By Sam McCosh


The Facts

Director: Teller
Writer(s): Penn Jillette, Teller
Starring: Tim Jenison, Penn Jillette, Martin Mull, David Hockney
Runtime: 80 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: July 3 2014