Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer is known as one of the great artists. Celebrated for his mastery of light and colour, art experts have long been at a loss to explain how a self taught painter managed to achieve such proficiency and technical skill. Enter Tim Jenison, an inventor by trade, who has been fascinated with the paintings of Vermeer for years. His hypothesis: Vermeer was more of a scientist than an artist, using mechanical means to create his paintings and prove the validity of his inventions. With this in mind, Jenison sets out to recreate Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, documenting the process in the film Tim’s Vermeer.
The idea that Vermeer used mechanical aids to complete his paintings is not a new idea, but it is one that has never been fully explored or tested. The art community is reluctant to attribute this to one of their idols. For them, admitting the use of a mechanical aid is cheating and cheapens the artistic merit of the final piece. For Jenison, a man who is grounded in the scientific realm, there are no such qualms. Both natural form free hand art work and one assisted by mechanical means are equally valid and equally extraordinary and he seeks to prove that the two are interconnected and have been for centuries.
The method that filmmaker Teller uses to document this process, can be equated to watching paint dry–sometimes literally. A great deal of the film is actually Jenison constructing a replica of the the setting of The Music Room, and then proceeding to paint it. While this should be as tedious as the phrase “watching paint dry” implies, the result is mildly fascinating as opposed to mind numbingly boring. What saves the film is Jenison, whose obvious determination and passion for this project ground the film with an emotional core.
There is still a matter of actually having to watch paint dry at various points of the film, and while the research aspect into the work of Vermeer is interesting, the film does start to drag a bit once he begins to put his theories into practice and brush to canvas. It would have been nice for the thread of art history and theory to have been carried through into the actual recreation attempt instead of just watching Jenison paint. What Tim’s Vermeer has in spades, however, is the absolute passion of Tim Jenison as he, with no art training whatsoever, tries to recreate the work of one of the most revered artists to ever live. It is the sheer audacity of this premise that makes Tim’s Vermeer worth a look. That and Jenison’s unerring belief that something deemed impossible by the experts is in fact possible. And by an amateur no less.