Posted by: ckckred | April 23, 2014

Tim’s Vermeer


I feel the best documentaries are the ones that manage to captivate you no matter the subject.  So while I have very little familiarity with the art of Johannes Vermeer, the legendary Dutch artist whose method of painting is the center of Tim’s Vermeer, I much enjoyed seeing how Tim Jenison attempted to replicate the style of the famed painter.  Helmed by Penn Jillette and Teller, the hosts of the TV series Bulls**t, Tim’s Vermeer is a fine introduction for viewers into the specific work of artistry.

The major reason why Tim’s Vermeer is so intriguing is because Tim Jennison is not an artist and has had zero experience in painting before.  He is, though, a renowned computer technician and inventor who became interested by Vermeer after reading a book about him.  Vermeer is known for his intricate paintings that look so real they could just as well be photos.  Yet no one knows quite how Vermeer managed to paint with such detail.  Tim theorizes that Vermeer may have used a camera obscura, a dark room that the artist sits in with a series of mirrors projecting the outside image, to have been able to make such striking pictures.  After consulting with multiple Vermeer experts, Tim decides to remake Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson” to see how the artist went about painting.  This requires Tim to recreate the scenery of “The Music Lesson,” which necessitates trips to Buckingham Palace and the Netherlands, as well as lessons in carpentry and construction.

Penn and Teller keep the movie at a humorous beat to keep Tim’s Vermeer consistently entertaining, mostly through joking about Tim’s relativity in the artist field, though the picture is always completely respectful to the subject matter.  What the two do very well is explain the concept of camera obsucra with simplicity.  By doing so, Tim’s Vermeer isn’t a complex artists-only lecture but an open documentary for all viewers that has the right amount of details and accessibility.

This isn’t to say Tim’s Vermeer couldn’t be better.  Particularly in Tim’s painting process the movie becomes a bit too slow and I often felt that Penn and Teller could have added some more tension or drama in the project.  But Tim’s Vermeer is ultimately successful by making a tricky topic so enjoyable.


  1. this sounds very promising! thanks for the post!

    • No problem. Hope you enjoy the movie if you see it.

  2. Don’t take ‘Tim’s Vermeer’ too seriously.
    Vermeer himself would never have painted in this manner, and it is extraordinary to compare his painting with the result Jenison achieves. Jenison has made no attempt to look at the scientific and historical evidence of painting practice in seventeenth century Holland, when painters worked slowly in layers, not trying to finish it in one go. Jenison has used modern materials and mirrors and has not been completely open about his method.

    To see another, much simpler way to transfer images from a camera obscura to a canvas, using authentic materials, go to:

    • Printed Light, your technique of tracing on home made carbon paper would have allowed Vermeer to trace the outlines, but as the film points out, Vermeer got the tones right in a way that the unaided human eye cannot perceive.

      Did you even watch the movie?

  3. I would LOVE this documentary since I’m a fan of Vermeer. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Nice review.

    • Thanks! If you like Vermeer, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this movie.

  4. Great review! I really enjoyed this too:

    • Thanks! I remember reading your review a while back. I agree with you on the reconstruction process which moves too slowly but the picture is pretty strong.

  5. Very fair review. Have been looking forward to seeing this. Interesting subject.

    • Thanks! It’s pretty interesting how Penn and Teller tackle Vermeer. It’s not without its flaws but Tim’s Vermeer’s the best documentary I’ve seen in a while.

  6. This sounds really interesting. Thanks for the heads up.

    • Thanks! It is pretty cool how Tim replicates Vermeer’s work. I was transfixed during much of the movie and I have no familiarity with the subject matter.

  7. […] movies will certainly improve during a second viewing.  I also very much enjoyed the documentary Tim’s Vermeer as well as the monster-romp Godzilla, whose characters never really come alive on screen but has […]

  8. Yeah, it was a very entertaining documentary and it almost makes you want to try the technique yourself….almost 😉

    • I’d really like to try what Vermeer did after watching the documentary, though I’d need a lot of patience.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: