The New Britain Museum of American Art will show a documentary film on Thursday about one man's quest to duplicate the painting technique of Dutch master Jan Vermeer. "If my idea was right, we're seeing color photographs, more or less, from 350 years ago," said inventor Tim Jenison.
In the documentary "Tim's Vermeer," Jenison is convinced Vermeer used optical gadgets to achieve his almost photographic paintings, and becomes obsessed with figuring out exactly how.
At first, Jenison thinks Vermeer may have used a camera obscura, basically a lens that projects an image on a canvas in a dark room. But he quickly dispels that notion when he realizes that the camera obscura technique would not account for Vermeer's ability to match color perfectly.
Then the inventor stumbles on another theory involving mirrors and lenses. "I put a 45 degree angle mirror on a stick," he said. "When you look just over the edge of the mirror, you see the panel you are going to paint on. You can match the color perfectly. It's fairly intuitive."
Jenison believes this is the method used by Vermeer to paint his masterpieces. To prove his theory, he set about recreating, from scratch, the room in Vermeer's masterpiece "The Music Lesson." He also used mirrors and ground his own lens to the specifications from Vermeer's time.
"What he is doing is making a genuine time machine," said the film director Teller, half of the magic duo Penn and Teller. "As a scientifically-minded guy, Tim wasn't content just to get ordinary objects and work with ordinary modern things. He needed to know he could work under the exact conditions that Vermeer was working under."
Jenison, who never painted before the documentary, reveals his version of "The Music Lesson" at the end of the documentary.
"Tim's Vermeer" will be shown at 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm on Thursday at the New Britain Museum of American Art.