Inventor Tim Jenison set out, with the help of his friends Penn and Teller – and a mirror – to discover just how Johannes Vermeer could paint so beautifully, and whether Jenison himself can recreate his work using the techniques it is presumed the artist used.
It has long been theorised that Vermeer used a Camera Obscura to create his trademark style and lush use of colour. This issue, long debated and argued over by academics and fans alike, is the one that fascinated Texas inventor Tim Jenison. Even though he had never really picked up a paintbrush before, Jenison’s interest was piqued, and he set out to discover just how Vermeer did what he did. Jenison discovered a new method of painting, using mirrors that is painstaking, but seemed to yield results. The next step of the process was to recreate Vermeer’s studio, to see if he could do what Vermeer did.
It could be argued that Jenison’s undertaking is only one that could be carried out by the idle rich, but remember, without these people with too much time on their hands, and a healthy dose of passion, we perhaps would not have many of the technological advances we have today. Jenison does not set out to discredit Vermeer, or accuse the artist of being a cheat, his intention is much more simple; discover whether Jenison is right, and whether this can be done.
What follows is a tale of obsession, passion and fascination; Jenison decided it was not enough to base his work on a print of the Vermeer painting The Music Lesson, he had to recreate the setting, furniture and colour of the piece. A visit to Vermeer’s studio and a sojourn into Buckingham Palace later, Jenison was ready to begin. 130 days later – 1,825 days all told – he finished his labour of love.
It is hard not to be dragged along by Jenison’s passion, and the passion of those around him, including artist David Hockney, Martin Mull, Penn Jillette and – behind the camera – Teller. Jenison struggles with the task he has set himself, and each obstacle that he overcomes makes him more tenacious and more endearing to the audience. Nine cameras placed around the studio capture Jenison’s struggle to emulate Vermeer, and only time will tell if he can succeed.
Tim’s Vermeer is a passion project and a labour of love. Jenison comes across as an infectiously enthusiastic man, who has got a project firmly in his grasp. When it comes down to it, recreating a Vermeer is a profoundly silly thing to do, but as well as being a study of the artist’s work, Tim’s Vermeer is a study in passion, dedication, tenacity and curiosity.