The Watch List: Tim's Vermeer (or, how Vermeer created photo-realistic paintings before photography was invented)

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

Believe it or not, I am not usually a fan of documentaries. I tend to read non-fiction and watch fiction, so when I do sit on the couch in front of the TV, it's usually for a drama, rom-com, or hilarious sitcom.

But, recently, I have jumped on the documentary train, and have discovered some pretty fascinating stuff.

Tim's Vermeer is a film created by Penn and Teller (yes, the Penn and Teller), that follows the journey of multi-millionaire entrepreneur and inventor Tim Jenison as he spends five years figuring out how the 17th century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer created photo-realistic paintings before photography was invented.


The fact is, Vermeer captured colours and light in his paintings that are unseeable by the human eye. They are only elements that we can see once they have been captured in a photograph. 

There have been books written by scholars suggesting that Vermeer used lenses or a camera obscura to create his paintings, but there has been very little practical testing of this theory. So, Tim decided to try it out.

What he discovered, however, is that though you can project an image on a wall or canvas using a camera obscura, you can't match colour to the projected image.

So, how did Vermeer manage to paint with such perfect colours? 

The documentary goes on to show how with a combination of a mirror and lenses, and a whole lot of patience, even the most untrained painter can create a Vermeer.

It is incredible what Tim achieves from his research and hard work, and a willingness to believe that art and science are not mutually exclusive, but can be combined (as the great masters used to) to create something truly extraordinary.

Check out the preview below: