Tims Vermeer poster

Review by C.J. Bunce

Whether learned or innate, the skill of a master artist is like nothing else.  That is true no less for the understanding of color, light, and shadow exhibited by 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. His work is lifelike, so much so that a Texas-based inventor devoted years of his life to try to understand why Vermeer painted in a style so much different from his peers.  The result is Tim’s Vermeer, a masterful documentary by director Teller of Las Vegas magic act duo Penn and Teller fame, in limited theatrical release last year and now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Video On Demand.

Scientists and artists for hundreds of years have speculated what tools Vermeer might have used to achieve his mastery, other than his sheer artistic genius.  He left no notes to this effect to assist scholars.  Tim Jenison, a successful businessman with time to devote to an immense intellectual pursuit, spent years speculating, then he created his own optical device involving a simple mirror that would allow anyone to replicate perfectly any image.  This is an even bigger feat than one might expect, because Jenison is not, and never was, an artist.  Friends Penn & Teller accompanied Jenison on his research, meeting with experts and artists, and ultimately the magic duo decided to film Jenison’s journey of discovery.  Teller directs (and co-produces with Jellette) and Jellette narrates this unusual and enlightening story.

Vermeer and Jenison compared

Which is which? Tim Jenison learns what may be Vermeer’s technique in Penn & Teller’s documentary.

Does Jenison get it right or not?  Penn leaves that question to the viewer, but he and Jenison give an abundance of reasons to support Jenison’s study.  The mission was simple:  Can a layman paint something as well as Vermeer with tools that would have been available to Vermeer in the 17th century?

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