Tim's Vermeer

Last updated
Tim's Vermeer
Tim's Vermeer 2013.jpg
Directed by Teller
Produced by
Written by
  • Penn Jillette
  • Teller
Music by Conrad Pope
CinematographyShane F. Kelly
Edited byPatrick Sheffield
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release date
  • September 5, 2013 (2013-09-05)(Toronto International Film Festival)
  • January 31, 2014 (2014-01-31)(United States, limited)
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,671,377 [1]

Tim's Vermeer is a documentary film, directed by Teller, produced by his stage partner Penn Jillette and Farley Ziegler, [2] about inventor Tim Jenison's efforts [3] to duplicate [4] the painting techniques of Johannes Vermeer, in order to test his theory that Vermeer painted with the help of optical devices. [5]

Documentary film nonfictional motion picture

A documentary film is a nonfictional motion picture intended to document reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a historical record. "Documentary" has been described as a "filmmaking practice, a cinematic tradition, and mode of audience reception" that is continually evolving and is without clear boundaries. Documentary films were originally called 'actuality' films and were only a minute or less in length. Over time documentaries have evolved to be longer in length and to include more categories, such as educational, observational, and even 'docufiction'. Documentaries are also educational and often used in schools to teach various principles. Social media platforms such as YouTube, have allowed documentary films to improve the ways the films are distributed and able to educate and broaden the reach of people who receive the information.

Teller (magician) American magician

Teller is an American magician, illusionist, writer, actor, painter, and film director. He is half of the comedy magic duo Penn & Teller, along with Penn Jillette. Teller usually does not speak during performances. He is an atheist, debunker, skeptic, and a fellow of the Cato Institute, an organization which is featured prominently in the duo's Showtime series Bullshit!. Teller legally changed his name from "Raymond Joseph Teller" to the mononym "Teller".

Penn Jillette American magician

Penn Fraser Jillette is an American magician, actor, musician, inventor, television personality, and best-selling author best known for his work with fellow magician Teller as half of the team Penn & Teller. The duo have been featured in numerous stage and television shows such as Penn & Teller: Fool Us, and Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, and are currently headlining in Las Vegas at The Rio. Jillette serves as the act's orator and raconteur.


The film premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival [6] and was released in limited theatrical release in the United States by Sony Pictures Classics on January 31, 2014. [7]

Toronto International Film Festival annual film festival held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The Toronto International Film Festival is one of the largest publicly attended film festivals in the world, attracting over 480,000 people annually. Since its founding in 1976, TIFF has grown to become a permanent destination for film culture operating out of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, located in downtown Toronto. TIFF's mission is "to transform the way people see the world through film."

Sony Pictures Classics is an American film production and distribution company that is a division of Sony Pictures. It was founded in 1992 by former Orion Classics heads Michael Barker, Tom Bernard, and Marcie Bloom. It distributes, produces and acquires specialty films such as documentaries, independent and art films in the United States and internationally. As of 2015, Barker and Bernard are co-presidents of the division.


Tim Jenison is an inventor who has become the successful founder of NewTek, a company working in various fields of computer graphics, most notably the 3D modelling software LightWave 3D. Jenison, himself both an engineer and art enthusiast, becomes fascinated with the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, a 17th-century Dutch painter, whose paintings have been oft cited to have a photographic quality to them, Jenison, spurred by the book Secret Knowledge by British artist David Hockney and Vermeer's Camera by British architecture professor Philip Steadman, theorizes that Vermeer potentially used a camera obscura to guide his painting technique.

NewTek, Inc. is a San Antonio, Texas–based hardware and software company that produces live and post-production video tools and visual imaging software for personal computers. The company was founded in 1985 in Topeka, Kansas, United States, by Tim Jenison and Paul Montgomery. On 1st of April 2019 it was announced that NewTek would be wholly acquired by Vizrt.

LightWave 3D

LightWave 3D is a 3D computer graphics program developed by NewTek. It has been used in films, television, motion graphics, digital matte painting, visual effects, video game development, product design, architectural visualizations, virtual production, music videos, pre-visualizations and advertising.

Johannes Vermeer 17th-century Dutch painter

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime but evidently was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.

His initial idea, that Vermeer used a simple light projection to paint, is quickly discarded after concluding that painting over a projection makes it nearly impossible to match the colors correctly. Jenison then has an epiphany of using a mirror to monitor parts of the picture: by placing a small, fixed mirror above the canvas at a 45-degree angle, he is able to view parts of the original image and the canvas simultaneously, and obtain a precise color match by continuously comparing the reflection of the original image with what he has put on the canvas, moving from area to area by simply moving his own point-of-view slightly. When the edge of the mirror "disappears", he has it right.

Building a quick crude prototype and using a photographic portrait of his father-in-law, Jenison produces an oil painting that looks nearly identical to the photograph. After building a prototype with a lens that is able to capture a real-life object, Steadman and Jenison, neither of whom has classic artistic education, take turns painting and produce an impressive oil painting of a vase. Both Hockney and Steadman note that their respective books have caused controversies in the art historian circles, who viewed the theory as an "intrusion of crass rationalists" and "the misunderstanding of the nature of art".

Jenison becomes convinced that he is able to reproduce The Music Lesson as a painting with this technique, and plans to physically recreate the original scene; first he models the entire painting in LightWave, then proceeds with a painstaking process of re-creating the objects and setting within the original scene, which includes him doing woodworking, turning on a lathe, and almost an entire year of handiwork. Jenison also insists on using only techniques available to Vermeer in the 17th century, mixing his own paint and polishing his own lens. Once the scene is set and is visually identical to the original painting, Jenison sits down and meticulously begins to paint.

<i>The Music Lesson</i> 1662-1665 painting by Jan Vermeer

The Music Lesson, Woman Seated at a Virginal or A Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman by Johannes Vermeer is a painting of a young female pupil receiving a music lesson from a man. The man's mouth is slightly agape giving the impression that he is singing along with the music that the young girl is playing. This suggests that there is a relationship between the two figures and the idea of love and music being bridged together. This was a common theme among Netherlandish art in this time period. Vermeer uses linear perspective and his invention of the camera pictura to create the illusion of space and depth within the setting of the painted room. Vermeer consistently used the same objects within his paintings such as the draped rug, the white water jug, various instruments, tiled floor and windows that convey light and shadows. This is one of few paintings produced by Vermeer which were kept in his home until his death in 1675 when his family was forced to sell them. It became a part of the Royal Collection, and it is currently on display in the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace in London.

During his process, he observes a variety of oddities of Vermeer's work that he attributes to the theory of Vermeer having mechanical help: He notes Vermeer's hyper-accurate recreation of diffuse lighting would be impossible to recreate by simple eyesight because of color constancy. He also observes that some of Vermeer's work features chromatic aberration and depth of field, two distinct features of a photographic lens but not of the human eye. While painting the virginal, he accidentally notices that while he used a straightedge to roughly sketch out the outline of the instrument, the curvature of the lens almost caused him to add a slight curvature to the virginal's seahorse-pattern itself. Curious, he looks at a print of the original painting and notices that the original painting has the same curvature in the pattern.

Color constancy

Color constancy is an example of subjective constancy and a feature of the human color perception system which ensures that the perceived color of objects remains relatively constant under varying illumination conditions. A green apple for instance looks green to us at midday, when the main illumination is white sunlight, and also at sunset, when the main illumination is red. This helps us identify objects.

Chromatic aberration Failure of a lens to focus all colors on the same point

In optics, chromatic aberration is a failure of a lens to focus all colors to the same point. It is caused by dispersion: the refractive index of the lens elements varies with the wavelength of light. The refractive index of most transparent materials decreases with increasing wavelength. Since the focal length of a lens depends on the refractive index, this variation in refractive index affects focusing. Chromatic aberration manifests itself as "fringes" of color along boundaries that separate dark and bright parts of the image.

Depth of field Distance between the nearest and the furthest objects that are in focus in an image

For many cameras, depth of field (DOF) is the distance between the nearest and the farthest objects that are in acceptably sharp focus in an image. The depth of field can be calculated based on focal length, distance to subject, the acceptable circle of confusion size, and aperture. A particular depth of field may be chosen for technical or artistic purposes. Limitations of depth of field can sometimes be overcome with various techniques/equipment.

After seven months, Jenison finally finishes painting the picture, and after adding a layer of varnish, he has an emotional moment taking a final look at his work. Observing the results of his work, Steadman and Hockney both feel confident in their theory that Vermeer had been using the same (or similar) tools to create his paintings, noting that "the painting itself is a document". The final shot of the film is Jenison, with his copy of The Music Lesson above his fireplace.


Tim's Vermeer has been met with positive reviews from film reviewers and technology enthusiasts. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 89% based on 107 reviews, with the consensus reading: "Entertaining and profound in equal measure, Tim's Vermeer uses its seemingly esoteric subject to pose fascinating questions about art and obsession". [8] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 76 out of 100, based on 32 critics, indicating "generally favorable" reviews. [9]

Rotten Tomatoes American review aggregator for film and television, owned by Fandango

Rotten Tomatoes is an American review-aggregation website for film and television. The company was launched in August 1998 by three undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley: Senh Duong, Patrick Y. Lee, and Stephen Wang. The name "Rotten Tomatoes" derives from the practice of audiences throwing rotten tomatoes when disapproving of a poor stage performance.

Metacritic is a website that aggregates reviews of films, TV shows, music albums, video games, and formerly, books. For each product, the scores from each review are averaged. Metacritic was created by Jason Dietz, Marc Doyle, and Julie Doyle Roberts in 1999. The site provides an excerpt from each review and hyperlinks to its source. A color of green, yellow or red summarizes the critics' recommendations. It is regarded as the foremost online review aggregation site for the video game industry.

Art critics Jonathan Jones and Bendor Grosvenor have criticized the film and disagreed with its conclusions. Jones wrote in the Guardian: "The technology Jenison relies on can replicate art, but it does so synthetically, with no understanding of art's inner life. The 'Vermeer' it spits out is a stillborn simulacrum." [10] [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

David Hockney, is an English painter, draftsman, printmaker, stage designer, and photographer. As an important contributor to the pop art movement of the 1960s, he is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century.

Boris Vallejo Peruvian painter

Boris Vallejo is a Peruvian painter.

<i>Girl with a Pearl Earring</i> 1665 painting by Johannes Vermeer, in the collection of the Mauritshuis

Girl with a Pearl Earring is an oil painting by Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer, dated c. 1665. Going by various names over the centuries, it became known by its present title towards the end of the 20th century after the large pearl earring worn by the girl portrayed there. The work has been in the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague since 1902 and has been the subject of various literary treatments. In 2006, the Dutch public selected it as the most beautiful painting in the Netherlands.

Leonaert Bramer painter from the Northern Netherlands

Leonaert Bramer, also Leendert or Leonard, was a Dutch painter known primarily for genre, religious, and history paintings. Very prolific as a painter and draftsman, he is noted especially for nocturnal scenes which show a penchant for exotic details of costume and setting. He also painted frescos—a rarity north of the Alps—which have not survived, as well as murals on canvas, few of which are extant. Bramer is one of the most intriguing personalities in seventeenth-century Dutch art.

Hockney–Falco thesis

The Hockney–Falco thesis is a theory of art history, advanced by artist David Hockney and physicist Charles M. Falco. Both claimed that advances in realism and accuracy in the history of Western art since the Renaissance were primarily the result of optical instruments such as the camera obscura, camera lucida, and curved mirrors, rather than solely due to the development of artistic technique and skill. Nineteenth-century artists' use of photography had been well documented. In a 2001 book, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, Hockney analyzed the work of the Old Masters and argued that the level of accuracy represented in their work is impossible to create by "eyeballing it". Since then, Hockney and Falco have produced a number of publications on positive evidence of the use of optical aids, and the historical plausibility of such methods. The hypothesis led to a variety of conferences and heated discussions.

<i>Study of a Young Woman</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer

Study of a Young Woman is a painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, completed between 1665 and 1667, and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

<i>The Lacemaker</i> (Vermeer) painting by Johannes Vermeer

The Lacemaker is a painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675), completed around 1669–1670 and held in the Louvre, Paris. The work shows a young woman dressed in a yellow shawl, holding up a pair of bobbins in her left hand as she carefully places a pin in the pillow on which she is making her bobbin lace. At 24.5 cm x 21 cm, the work is the smallest of Vermeer's paintings, but in many ways one of his most abstract and unusual. The canvas used was cut from the same bolt as that used for A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals, and both paintings seem to have had identical dimensions originally.

<i>Woman with a Lute</i> 1660s painting of Johannes Vermeer

Woman with a Lute, also known as Woman with a Lute Near a Window, is a painting created about 1662–1663 by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

<i>A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals</i> paiting by Johannes Vermeer

A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals is a painting generally attributed to Johannes Vermeer, though this was for a long time widely questioned. A series of technical examinations from 1993 onwards confirmed the attribution. It is thought to date from c.1670 and is now in part of the Leiden Collection in New York. It should not be confused with Young Woman Seated at a Virginal in the National Gallery, London, also by Vermeer.

<i>Lady Seated at a Virginal</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer

Lady Seated at a Virginal, also known as Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, is a genre painting created by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer in about 1670–72 and now in the National Gallery, London.

<i>Lady Standing at a Virginal</i> 1670 painting by Johannes Vermeer

Lady Standing at a Virginal is a genre painting created by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer in about 1670–1672, now in the National Gallery, London.

<i>Officer and Laughing Girl</i> 17th-century painting by Johannes Vermeer

Officer and Laughing Girl, also known as Officer and a Laughing Girl, Officer With a Laughing Girl or De Soldaat en het Lachende Meisje, was painted by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer between 1655 and 1660. It was painted in oil on canvas, typical of most Dutch artists of the time, and is 50.5 by 46 cm. It now resides in The Frick Collection in New York.

<i>Girl with a Red Hat</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer

Girl with a Red Hat is a rather small painting, signed by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. It is seen as one of a number of Vermeer's tronies – depictions of models fancifully dressed that were not intended to be portraits of specific, identifiable subjects. Others believe it is a portrait. Whether Vermeer chose family members as models or found them elsewhere in Delft is irrelevant to the appreciation of his paintings. Its attribution to Vermeer – as it is on a (recycled) wood panel and not on canvas – has been a matter of controversy with scholars on both sides of the argument.

<i>Bigger Trees Near Warter</i> painting by David Hockney

Bigger Trees Near Warter or ou Peinture en Plein Air pour l'age Post-Photographique is a large landscape painting by British artist David Hockney. Measuring 460 by 1,220 centimetres or 180 by 480 inches, it depicts a coppice near Warter, Pocklington in the East Riding of Yorkshire and is the largest painting Hockney has completed.

<i>The Procuress</i> (Dirck van Baburen) number of similar paintings by the Dutch Golden Age painter Dirck van Baburen

The Procuress is the name given to a number of similar paintings by the Dutch Golden Age painter Dirck van Baburen. The painting is in the Caravaggiesque style of the Utrecht school.

<i>The Guitar Player</i> (Vermeer) painting of Johannes Vermeer

The Guitar Player is an oil painting by Dutch Baroque artist Johannes Vermeer, dated c. 1672. This work of art is one of Vermeer's final artistic activities, providing insight into the techniques he mastered and approaches to painting he favored. The painting has been on display at Kenwood House, London since the 1920s, as part of the Iveagh Bequest collection. After being recovered from a theft in 1974, when the painting was held for ransom, The Guitar Player was returned to Kenwood House.

Nigel Konstam

Nigel Konstam is a British sculptor and art historian who has researched the history of art and lectured internationally on art historical subjects. He specialised in exploring the development of Man's ability to understand what he sees and challenged orthodoxy on important turning points in art history.


  1. "Tim's Vermeer (2014) - Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com.
  2. "Tim's Vermeer (2013) -- Full Cast & Crew". IMDb . Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  3. Andersen, Kurt (November 29, 2013). "Reverse-Engineering a Genius (Has a Vermeer Mystery Been Solved?)". Vanity Fair.
  4. Tim Jenison's Vermeer, The Music Lesson (photograph) Archived January 12, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  5. Debruge, Peter (September 2, 2013). "Telluride Film Review: 'Tim's Vermeer'". Variety . Retrieved November 19, 2013.
  6. "Sony Pictures Classics Unlocks Tim's Vermeer". ComingSoon.net . July 29, 2013. Retrieved November 19, 2013.
  7. Dargis, Manohla (January 30, 2014). "Dutch Masterwork, Under Reconstruction". The New York Times . Retrieved February 21, 2014.
  8. "Tim's Vermeer".
  9. "Tim's Vermeer".
  10. Jones, Jonathan (28 January 2014). "DIY Vermeer documentary utterly misses the point about old masters" via The Guardian.
  11. Tim's not Vermeer