KUSP Film Review

Tim’s Vermeer


Listen to Dennis Morton’s review, above.

Several years ago, while visiting my brother in New York, I found myself strolling through Central Park with no destination in mind. I spotted a very large building at the edge of the park, and curiosity tugged me to it.

It turned out to be the Metropolitan Museum Of Art. So I went inside. A notice mentioned that the curator was about to resign, and to mark the occasion, he’d assembled, in one room, all of his favorite pieces.

What the heck, I thought – that would be a good start. So in I went. As I walked into the room, I turned to the right, and there, next to the doorway was the most magnificent painting I have ever seen. I must have stood before it for well over an hour. I couldn’t walk away. For at least ten minutes, I was in tears. I don’t really know how to describe the impact of that painting. I did walk away, after an hour or so. But I soon returned to it, and stayed parked in front of it until I had to leave the building.

The painting was Vermeer’s “Study Of A Young Woman”.

So, when the documentary, Tim’s Vermeer, came to town, I knew I’d be spending some time with it. And I’m glad I did.

Tim Jenison is an inventor who’s done well for himself. A self described geeky kind of guy, somewhere along the way, Tim developed a passion for the work of Johannes Vermeer. He began to wonder how Vermeer was able to create his alluring masterpieces,
works marked by a photographic realism, when Vermeer preceded the invention of photography by 150 years.

Tim began to study and ruminate, and obsess about Vermeer. He traveled to Delft, where much of Vermeer’s work was done. He read a book by David Hockney which suggested that many painters of Vermeer’s era used optics – mirrors, lenses, and the camera obscura – to help them achieve a sense of realism in their work.

Tim Jenison’s professional life is all about optics. His curiosity was sufficiently piqued. Notwithstanding the fact that he’d never held an artist’s paintbrush, eventually he concocted the idea that he could paint a nearly perfect replica of one of Vermeer’s classics. He chose to make a copy of “The Music Lesson”.

And that’s what Tim’s Vermeer is all about. The experiment took five years. Tim recreated the room in Delft that Vermeer painted in, down to the last detail – furniture, tile, carpeting, lighting, etc. He recreated, by hand, the various lenses Vermeer might have used. He ground his own colors, made his own paint. And finally, with a stroke of insight, he employed a mirror that may well have been the essential tool that elevated Vermeer’s technique beyond that of most of his contemporaries.

Watching the experiment unfold is fascinating, but equally of interest, to me, was listening to Tim. He’s a big, burly, down-to-earth guy, brilliant in a nuts and bolts kind of way. I’ve always enjoyed listening to extemporaneously intelligent conversation – and there’s plenty of that in the film.

How did Tim’s experiment turn out? For the answer, you’ll have to watch Tim’s Vermeer.

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