Vermeer, coming to a theater near you

A new documentary examines how the painter achieved incredible photo-realism 150 years before the camera

Topics: Hyperallergic, Johannes Vermeer, Art, camera, photo-realism, Documentary, Painting, , ,

Vermeer, coming to a theater near you Johannes Vermeer, “A Lady Drinking and a Gentleman” (c. 1658), oil on canvas, 66.3 x 76.5 cm, Staatliche Museen, Berlin (Credit: via Web Gallery of Art)
This article originally appeared on Hyperallergic.


The painter Johannes Vermeer is known for his incredible treatment of light and the near-photorealism of his 17th-century scenes. How did he do it without the use of a camera, which was invented some 150 years later? That was the question driving art layman and Texan entrepreneur Tim Jenison when he went on a quest to understand the artist and his art. Jenison’s journey was captured on film by Teller, of the magic act Penn & Teller, and will be released as a documentary next year by Sony Pictures Classics, Deadline reports.

Tim’s Vermeer, as the film is titled, follows Jenison in his decade-long attempt to piece together Vermeer’s technique and achievements with only 17th-century technology. He travels to Vermeer’s hometown of Delft, Holland; to Yorkshire to meet artist David Hockney, who’s a proponent of the theory that Vermeer used a camera obscura for his compositions; and to Buckingham Palace, to see the Vermeer painting kept there. Jenison is an inventor himself, having founded a company called NewTek in 1985, which makes video and imaging software for computers. (His NewTek bio  calls him “the visionary force behind the desktop video revolution.”)

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Given its combined subject matter, it’ll be interesting to see whether the movie ends up more of a tale about Jenison — a kind of Errol Morris–inspired eccentric personality doc — or about Vermeer, in the vein of populist art history. We’ll hope for some kind of cross between the two, with the added flair of Teller’s sharp, wordless magic.

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