When people get see my photographic work which is about creating photos that look like XVII Century paintings (see it here), it only takes few minutes for them to ask me whether I have seen the film Tim’s Vermeer. I finally can report that I saw it a week or so ago.
Many of my “photographic-paintings” are using Vermeer compositional elements, lighting and objects. I have also created fictional stories behind my scenes using real known facts from Vermeer’s life and from XVII Century Dutch Republic. I have therefore spent much time and effort researching the period and Vermeer’s life. That being said, I recognized that I am no expert or pretend to be one, however, as someone who has read few books about Vermeer, I could easily spot the flaws in Tim’s theory. I cannot explain how someone like Phillip Steadman, who wrote“Vermeer’s Camera: Uncovering the secrets to the Masterpieces” would not use his knowledge of Vermeer’s work to offer a counterpoint to Tim Jenison’s quest for an intricate, primitive mechanical photocopier to circumvent his own inability to painting and then, furthermore suggest that the Dutch Master shared his lacking.
Steadman in his book explores and offers convincing argument that Vermeer used a camera obscura. If you are interested in Vermeer’s work, I highly recommend this book, it is intriguing, well written and offers a lot of insight into Vermeer’s work. One of his arguments is that Vermeer painted in layers, starting from almost outlines in basic color shapes as under paintings (see here about this topic). He then, worked his way up in layers until the paint is finished. It is something that has been researched and proven through X-rays and other non-intrusive mechanisms. Also, many of Vermeer’s paintings have a small orifice that is known to be used to pin strings and create perspective, another proof that he did not used a mechanical device like Tim's.
Steadman knew all this very well, he writes about them in his book and the under paintings in dead colors as it was called is one of his arguments he puts forward. Steadman's argument is that Vermeer used the camera obscura to explore compositions and to create the first under painting which is a sort of outline. Why wouldn't he say so in the documentary? Maybe he did, and the producers conveniently cut them out. It would have destroyed Tim’s argument and it would have render the movie useless which means unprofitable, SONY would not have liked that.
I admire Tim Jenison for his persistence, he put quite a bit of his own money and effort into the project. I created my own set to shoot my “Vermeers” (see here how I did it in this article) so I have a faint idea of what he went through. However, just because Tim Jenison requires an ingenious mechanical-reproduction-printing device to paint a scene, it does not mean that Vermeer needed it as well.
Tim did a lot of research on "The Music Lesson" and Vermeer, there are many studies on Vermeer's technique, specially the under-paintings and his painting work in layers, NOT in small dabs matching tonalities. If I could find them, Tim sure did.
Essential Vermeer: Vermeer's Painting Technique
Vermeer and the Art of Painting
National Gallery (London, UK): Vermeer and Technique
I was also very surprised that the film did not interviewed people like Arthur Wheelock, a respected authority of everything Vermeer, or Marjorie E. Weissman, Curator of Dutch Painting at the National Gallery in London, another respected authority who has written several books about Vermeer and his works. Maybe they refused to dignify the "show" and its theory behind with their name. I would have... the fact remains that nobody in the film calls Tim’s theory to task, which acts in its detriment. There is not one single person in the film who doubts him, the way he doubts Vermeer.