How clever was Vermeer?

pearl selfieEven if you’re not keen on art from hundreds of years ago, you’ve likely seen some of Johannes Vermeer’s work.

Here’s a take off of a Vermeer painting called “The girl with the pearl earring.” Maybe you saw the movie with Scarlett Johansson playing the girl with the pearl earring.

No other artists were making paintings like Vermeer’s in the mid 1600’s. His captured quality of light and details make his painting seem like they’re captured frames from a video recording.

How clever was Vermeer? Instead of standing and painting freehand, did he use some secret mechanical or optical aids? Unfortunately, there’s very little about Vermeer the person, and his methods written while he was alive.

Tim Jenison, a successful, wealthy American tech inventor (and non-painter) became intrigued with Vermeer’s uncanny ability to get detail and light just right that make his paintings similar to photographs.

Based on ideas from artists fascinated by Vermeer’s technique and investigations of his own, Tim concocted a painting technique using a mirror that allows someone to match, with paint, any still life scene.

His attempt at replicating one of Vermeer’s work became the basis of a fascinating documentary titled “Tim’s Vermeer.”

The documentary tracks Tim’s investigation of possible techniques that Vermeer might have used. After some digging Tim comes up with a technique that allows him, a non-painter, to paint in the Vermeer style. Then the film follows him building an exact replica of Vermeer’s Amsterdam studio, in San Antonio! After recreating the studio, Tim attempts an exact copy of Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson” made in 1665. Tim also decides to use only materials Vermeer would have had access to. No easy feat.

That’s probably enough about the “Tim’s Vermeer” story. It’s gotten good reviews all ’round. It was made and produced by Penn and Teller who’re skeptics and add interesting narration and interviews. David Hockney, the painter, pops up a couple of times, adding authenticity and his insights too.

Watch it, “Tim’s Vermeer” is worth your time.