Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 3:05 PM

  • Share:
           
  • Comments (0)
  • Print

‘Tim’s Vermeer’: Chronicling a 5-year obsession

A 3.5-star review of the documentary “Tim’s Vermeer,” about inventor and art aficionado Tim Jenison.


Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3.5 stars

‘Tim’s Vermeer,’ a documentary directed by Teller. 80 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some strong language. Sundance Cinemas.

Most Popular Comments
Hide / Show comments
No comments have been posted to this article.
Start the conversation >

advertising

The documentary “Tim’s Vermeer” is about many things — art history, technology, painting technique, beauty — but ultimately it’s a beguiling study of fascination. (Or, some might say, obsession.) Tim Jenison, a bearded, genial fellow who modestly refers to himself as “an inventor” (he is, in fact, a key figure in the development of desktop video), has long loved the paintings of the 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. Fascinated by how Vermeer managed to achieve such photolike realism and light, Jenison studied the work of art historians who wondered whether the artist used a cameralike device — and determined to use such a technique to paint a “Vermeer” himself, re-creating “The Music Lesson” from a still life reconstructed in a warehouse in San Antonio.

It’s a wildly ambitious quest, and it took Jenison many years: of travel to Europe to study Vermeer’s paintings and meet with historians; of time spent learning to make furniture (a hands-on guy, Jenison wanted to be sure that his still life was completely accurate) and craft period-accurate paints; of days and weeks and months spent in that warehouse, hunched over a canvas and a simple device involving a lens and two mirrors, meticulously re-creating the painting stroke by tiny stroke.

“This project is a lot like watching paint dry,” Jenison dryly observes, mid-painting, and in the wrong hands this documentary could have had a similar effect. But Jenison has long been friends with Penn Gillette, the chatty half of the magic duo Penn & Teller, who recognized early that this project had some magic of its own. With Teller (the quiet one) directing, Gillette acts as an amiable narrator; sharing his own irrepressible enthusiasm for the project (“My friend Tim painted a Vermeer!”) and walking us smoothly through its science.

The result is pretty fascinating for us as well: an art-world mystery explored, a tribute to the hypnotic power of art, a long, ambitious journey seen to its successful end. (It’s quite moving when Jenison, normally a stoic man of science, gets choked up upon viewing his finished canvas — after 1,825 days. While it doesn’t look exactly like Vermeer’s, it’s uncannily close.) We may never know exactly how Vermeer achieved his magic, but Jenison’s experiment makes a compelling argument, without ever lessening the beauty of the art.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com



Want unlimited access to seattletimes.com? Subscribe now!

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

The summer is wide open.

The summer is wide open.

Follow our three-part "Washington's National Parks" series running through August 10 for an in-depth look at some of our local treasures.

Advertising

Partner Video

Advertising

Autos news and research

 What's in a wheel size?

What's in a wheel size?


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►