The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Review: 'Tim's Vermeer' demystifies a masterpiece, one brush stroke at a time

  • Print

"Tim's Vermeer" is a simple little documentary that, in not 90 minutes, accomplishes nothing less than the demystification of artistic genius.

We've long been romanticized by the concept of the divine artist, blessed with otherworldly talent. "Tim's Vermeer" isn't any less in awe of great masters like Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. It just proves masterworks take more than pixie dust: They take hard work.

The film chronicles the unlikely discovery of a Texas inventor, Tim Jenison, who believes he's found the key to how the 17th-century artist painted with such photorealistic detail 150 years before the daguerreotype. Conspiracy theories have abounded, many of them focusing on his possible use of camera obscura (a device that projects an image on a wall or screen).

Jenison's belief is that some of Vermeer's most famous paintings (he left behind 34) were done not just with a camera obscura-like contraption, but with a mirror that enabled him to exactly copy the images reflected. By creating a rough approximate of this, Jenison (who had never painted before in his life) finds he can draw brilliantly detailed paintings.

He sets out to prove his theory by exactly reproducing Vermeer's "The Music Lesson," recreating the precise conditions Vermeer painted in. Jenison turns a San Antonio warehouse into a replica of Vermeer's studio, right down to period-accurate lenses, paint dyes and costumes. It took nearly a year to build the studio, and four more to paint his Vermeer.

Jenison is a bearish, inquisitive engineer who made millions with the early computer graphics software company he founded, NewTek. He's a tinkerer, who has continued to channeled his curiosity into myriad inventions. He also happens to be buddies with the illusionist duo Penn and Teller, who decided to document Jenison's audacious experiment. Teller (the silent one) directs, while Penn Jillette (a producer) serves as an on-camera interviewer in the film.

It's a great irony that a story about the difficult realities behind a captivating image should come from a pair of illusionists. Part of the drama in "Tim's Vermeer" comes from always expecting Jillette to suddenly pull the rug out and yell "Presto!" — and reveal their film to be merely a clever put-on.

But magicians are really craftsman who labour through endless practice to perfect a smooth sleight of hand and seamless misdirection. In Vermeer, they recognize a fellow illusionist, one who has shrouded his astonishing technique in mystery for centuries.

And Jenison's tedious demonstration ("like watching paint dry," he jokes) is quite convincing. He also gains the endorsement of famed British artist David Hockney, whose book "Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters" argued that lenses and optics went into masterpieces by da Vinci, Caravaggio and others.

Whether "Tim's Vermeer" proves unequivocally how Vermeer worked is a question for art historians, not film critics. But the film — an ode to craftsmanship — establishes without a doubt that many of the traits we reserve for other fields — dedication, ingenuity — are also inherent to the artistic process. Ta-da.

"Tim's Vermeer," a Sony Pictures Classics release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for some strong language. Running time: 80 minutes. Three stars out of four.

___

MPAA definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

___

Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Dustin Byfuglien reflects on season

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local/Weather Standup- Catching rays. Prairie Dog stretches out at Fort Whyte Centre. Fort Whyte has a Prairie Dog enclosure with aprox. 20 dogs young and old. 060607.
  • A Canada Goose cools off in a water pond Monday afternoon at Brookside Cemetary- See Bryksa’s Goose a day Challenge– Day 27-June 25, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you agree with the province’s crackdown on flavoured tobacco products?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google