Tim’s Vermeer



Tim’s Vermeer rm– Johannes Vermeer is a Dutch painter who lived 350 years ago. He is known for his magnificent paintings of mostly indoor scenes with exquisite photo like detail capturing shadows and variations in light as good if not better than any of the master painters of that time. Tim Jenison is a successful businessman and inventor who develops the idea that Vermeer may have been using a little ”magic” in creating his paintings. He did this by using some tricky optics with a mirror and a variation of camera obscura. Jenison postulated that Vermeer was reflecting the light from the subject through a small hole on to a mirror and then to the canvas where he could perfectly match the color paint over the reflection, which resulted in the unusual realism which the painter achieved. Jenison’s best friend is Penn Jilette the well know magician showman who collaborates with Jenison along with Penn’s performing partner Teller who directs the film as they team up to make this documentary. Jension, only using the technology of the painter’s time period, not only constructs the optic device that he believes Vermeer must have used but he recreates the studio where he painted in the exact dimensions as possible. He then builds a setup to copy and reconstruct the detailed background including the costumes of the subjects in Vermeer’s classic painting The Music Lesson using models to pose as they were in the painting. Now here is the amazing part, Mr. Jenison, who notes that he is not an artist, but using brushes and paints that were around 350 years ago meticulously matches the exact colors and paints them on the images being reflected on his canvas. It takes him over 4 months of almost continuous painstaking work but this non artist creates a painting which seems to very closely resemble Vermeer’s masterpiece and his unusual realistic style. The entire procedure was documented by a film crew, with Penn narrating and Teller directing the movie. They also bring in the well known British painter David Hockney who acknowledges that on the basis of the picture which Tim Jenison has created, he has made the case that he has discovered the secret to Vermeer’s success. This in one sense would seem to discredit this master although he should be credited at least for his composition. There is no known record of the artist being familiar or experimenting with optical devices that were available at the time. Apparently there are also no known writings about any other artist at that time or subsequently who use this technique, which makes this all more remarkable. To further support this theory, Jenison discovered a very faint blue outline on some object in the Vermeer painting which would have no reason to be there but could have been created by a chromatic abnormality of the mirror. We would imagine that if the nobles of the time had discovered that an artist could paint such realistic perfect reproductions, they might be in quite demand (although maybe an artist who produces more creatively flattering portraits would be chosen). We know that some artists today will paint over photographs but we believe that x-ray techniques would uncover the underlying picture if they claimed them to be original paintings. We wonder if a devious contemporary would-be artist might be able promote himself as a master when he was only secretly using this technique? In conclusion, perhaps it is fitting and perhaps ironic that the magician showmen Penn and Teller have produced a documentary film, which may have discovered an important magic trick that has gone undiscovered for more than 3 centuries! It took them 80 minutes to demonstrate how they believe Vermeer pulled it off.  Perhaps they could have done it with a short twenty-minute documentary but nevertheless it is sure to make big ripples in the art world. (2014)

Category: 3 Stars, Documentary | Tags: , , , , , , , , , Comment »

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