You know, sometimes when I'm Iaying in bed at night trying to get to sIeep, aII I can think about is this goaI of trying to paint a Vermeer.
You know, reaIIy, I'm gonna try to paint a Vermeer.
And, at the face of it, that seems aImost impossibIe.
And I don't know if I couId do it.
You know, it'II be pretty remarkabIe if I can, because I'm not a painter.
The Vermeer he's talking about is Johannes Vermeer, the Dutch artist from the 1600s.
Some consider him the greatest painter of all time.
When you look at a Vermeer, it seems like more than paint on canvas. lt seems to glow like the image on a movie screen.
That magical quality has mystified the world for 350 years.
How did Vermeer do it?
Dutch artists typically learnt by apprenticeship and they kept written records to prove their training.
But no such documents have ever been found about Vermeer.
And strangely, when you x-ray these intricate images, you don't find the usual artist's sketches underneath. lt's as if Vermeer were some unfathomable genius who could just walk up to a canvas and magically paint with light.
lt's possible that Vermeer was using technology to make these beautiful paintings. lf he did that, and, of course, there's no documentation that he did this, it's possibIe he couId paint some pretty remarkabIe pictures without a Iot of training.
It's possibIe that he was more of an experimenter, more of a tinkerer, more of a geek.
And, in that way, l feel a kinship with him, because l'm a computer graphics guy, and we use technoIogy to make a reaIistic, beautifuI image, and it's possibIe that's exactIy what Vermeer was doing.
Tim Jenison is not a painter, he's an inventor.
He's always had a talent for figuring out how things work.
When Tim was growing up in lowa, he got a broken player piano, repaired it, and taught himself to play swing music by slowing down the piano rolls so he could follow Fats Waller's fingers.
Tim played keyboards in a rock band for a couple of years and taught himself to fix anything electronic that broke.
The amazing wizard!
He got married, had a family, and built a business repairing pinball machines and video games.
Then, around 1990, he invented a way to turn personal computers into TVstudios for live broadcasting.
He called it the Video Toaster, and it won him an Emmy.
That led him to other amazing achievements like LightWave, a program for rendering 3D images, which won an Emmy for his company, NewTek, in 2003.
Tim's now based in San Antonio, Texas, and his company produces the TriCaster, used in broadcast, web, and live performance.
All this has given Tim the money and free time to make things like this, Frankie, his lip-syncing duck.
A plane made entirely of stuff from a home improvement store.
It's an eIectric moth.
His electric moth.
As you raise the Iight, it comes up off the fIoor, and it stays at exactIy the same distance under the Iight.
Here's the pipe organ Tim put together from four different churches.
Once I got started, you have to have more pipes, because it's never quite enough, so I've got three pipe organs here, pIus an eIectronic organ that I'm using for the keyboard.
Tim and I have been friends for a reaIIy Iong time.
If there was an artist, he wouId draw it, what you see...
We've cried together at space shuttle launches.
We flew his Learjet down to Cabo San Lucas to see the total eclipse of the sun.
So, the deviI's in there.
This is Penn, the Iast day he was abIe to see before he Iost God's most precious gift Iooking at the ecIipse.
Tim's been weightless in an astronaut-training plane and he arranged for me to try it, too. l vomited into my own hair.
Tim was not and is not a painter.
So I didn't know he had this whoIe IittIe sub-obsession with Vermeer.
Tim's Vermeer project started 1 1 years back, in 2002, when his daughter gave him a copy of David Hockney's book, Secret KnowIedge.
Hockney wrote that when pictures started to look less like this, and more like this, that was because artists had found new tools to help them. ln 17th-century Holland, high quality lenses and mirrors were in use everywhere.
Telescopes were all the rage and science hobbyists were experimenting with ways to project live images.
Hockney challenged conventional wisdom by suggesting that when artists of Vermeer's day began to paint more accurately, they were no longer using just their eyes and their imaginations.
They were secretly getting help from optical machines, like the camera obscura.
Camera obscura is Latin for ''dark room''.
Build a box, any size.
Could be the size of a shoebox, but let's make this one big enough to stand inside. lt's a dark room.
Drill a little hole in one side of the box and you see something surprising.
The image of whatever is outside the box, in the light, is projected on the wall opposite the hole, only it's upside down and backwards.
You can make the image brighter and clearer by putting a lens in the hole, and you can change the size of the image on the wall by changing the curvature and position of the lens.
Here's David Hockney on a TVspecial.
He's inside a camera obscura, tracing the image of a live model projected through a lens.
Hockney was mostly focused on how a painter could have traced images through a lens.
To me, what was most striking about the Vermeers, as a video guy, l'm looking at this image, and l see a video signal. l see something that looks like it came out of a video camera.
So I thought about how a painter couId actuaIIy copy that.
Now, most peopIe that have pIayed with a camera obscura got the idea that they couId take that projected image and somehow paint on it.
WeII, I've tried that and a Iot of peopIe have tried it, it's impossibIe.
What happens is it actuaIIy fights you, it works against you, it's worse than nothing at aII.
Painting on a projection just doesn't work.
Here's a blue that matches very closely the blue in the projection. lmagine this is wet paint.
When you put it into the projection, it looks way too dark.
On the other hand, here's a perfect match.
The colour that matches the projected colour just right.
The only colour that'll ever do that is white.
Tim went around the world studying Vermeer.
They called it ''painting with light. '' Vermeer ''painted with light. ''
You can't paint with light, you have to paint with paint.
And so what they're really talking about is this verisimilitude that Vermeer has, that it just pops.
You see it from across the room and it looks like a slide, it looks like a colour slide of Kodachrome.
Seeing the Vermeers in person was a revelation. lt reinforced to me that l was on the right track.
That what l was seeing was an accurate representation of the colour in that room.
I just had a hunch that there must be a way to actuaIIy get the coIours accurate, with mechanicaI means.
Some way you couId do that in the 1 7th century.
I remember just having this vague idea of comparing two coIours with a mirror, and it didn't go any farther than that for a Iong time.
Sitting in the bathtub, you know, that's I guess where you have your eureka moments, but, I don't know, there's something about bath water...
It's just very, very reIaxing.
And I was just picturing that mirror hanging there in space, and I pictured what I wouId see, and there it was.
And so I grabbed a piece of paper, being carefuI not to get it wet, made a sketch, and that was where l realised Vermeer couId have used a mirror to paint those paintings.
To test this l propped up a high school photograph of my father-in-law on the table. l put a piece of Masonite down here to paint on. l set a small mirror at a 45-degree angle.
And for the first time in my life, l did just what Vermeer may have done. l picked up some oil paints and a brush.
In Vermeer's camera this wouId be a projection, a Iens is projecting this image.
But to show the actuaI mirror painting process, we're using a photograph here.
You can see that there's a refIection, and then there's my canvas down here.
And right at the edge of the mirror, I can see both things at once.
I'm just going to appIy paint and either darken or Iighten the paint untiI it's the same exact coIour.
And at that point, when it's exactIy the same coIour, the edge of the mirror wiII disappear.
AII right, and I'm an idiot at this, I have done this process exactIy twice in my Iife before.
What I'm doing is I'm moving my head up and down so that I can see first the originaI and then my canvas.
I'm Iooking at both things at the same time.
Right on the forehead, you can see that they match, because you can't reaIIy see the edge of the mirror.
That's, that's your cIue that you've matched the paint exactIy.
It's not subjective, it's objective.
I'm a piece of human photographic fiIm at that point.
What you're doing here is you're essentiaIIy bIending?
Yep, I am either darkening or Iightening the paint that's aIready on the surface.
You aren't tracing any Iines, 'cause there are no Iines.
Yeah, that's a characteristic of the Vermeers that makes them unusuaI, is that there weren't Iines, and there weren't any Iines drawn underneath the paint either.
It Iooks Iike there's these bIobs that are emerging into a picture.
It doesn't Iook Iike...
The order you're doing stuff in is not a...
It's not being done mentaIIy.
And that's what's so nutty about it.
You know, if I was better at this, it may be more systematic, I may evoIve into doing it more systematicaIIy, but...
No matter what I've tried, if I just spend enough time comparing the mirror to the canvas and stirring the paint around, it ends up Iooking Iike a photograph.
And this was the result of Tim's experiment, it took him five hours.
Not bad for a first oil painting.
The father-in-law picture was proof enough in my mind that Vermeer probably did this.
However, my father-in-law doesn't look like a 17th-century Dutch woman, so l don't think it would be very convincing evidence for a lot of people.
So, l thought the best way would be to really do a Vermeer. l had the suspicion that it was exactly the same thing. lf l could do the father-in-law, l could paint a Vermeer. lt seemed to me the most powerful demonstration of the idea.
The reason l chose The Music Lesson is probably because, of all the paintings, l think The Music Lesson is a great little laboratory, because it's so complete and so self-contained.
You know where the windows are, you know how big the windows are, you can reconstruct the harpsichord independent of the painting, the Spanish chair, the viola da gamba, the rug, all these things could be procured, and their appearance is gonna be what it is, independent of Vermeer's painting.
lt's a little scientific experiment waiting to happen.
Before Tim went to all that trouble, we thought he should run his idea by a working artist.
So we called up our friend, Los Angeles-based painter and entertainer, Martin Mull, and asked him to meet Tim at a studio in Las Vegas and see his gizmo.
Oh, my God.
Oh, my God.
Took me about haIf an hour to Iearn how to operate a paintbrush.
Good for you, it took me 40 years.
WeII, and the beauty of this technique is that you can make mistakes and see what you did wrong instantIy and try to fix it.
This is astounding.
So this is a camera obscura, typicaI of the type that couId be found in the 1600's.
This type of camera obscura is caIIed a ''box camera obscura''.
It generaIIy had a ground gIass Iike this.
It has the abiIity to refocus by moving the Iens in and out.
The generaI consensus of peopIe that beIieve Vermeer used optics was that he may have Iooked at that image and been inspired by it.
And that's the end of the story.
So now that we know there's a way to copy the coIours exactIy, I'm proposing an aIternate history of Vermeer.
His father's an art deaIer, he knows something about art, he wants to make a painting.
He Iooks at this image...
There's my daughter, NataIie.
What if Vermeer took the camera, turned it sideways, and now it's verticaI, -Iike my father-in-Iaw picture. -Okay.
He takes his canvas, and, the secret ingredient, the mirror.
He positions the mirror here.
Which corrects the inversion?
-Yeah, it brings it back... -And everything...
And there it is! CIear as can be.
So if he's in his Iiving room, he puts up some curtains, controIs the Iight, and now picks up his brush and starts to paint.
My guess is that the Girl with the Red Hat is that first painting.
-Wow. -It's painted over the top of another painting.
We can x-ray it and see that there's something eIse underneath, so maybe this was just a throwaway experiment.
So I understand, Tim, that when you go back to Texas, you're going to construct a repIica of the exact room where Vermeer painted?
And you're going to do a painting in his stead, am I right?
Many of Vermeer's paintings appear to have been painted in the same room, likely the north-facing room on the second floor of the house Vermeer lived in.
That's the room Tim plans to construct.
I reaIIy hope to see firsthand what Vermeer was up against, if he was using this technique.
And try to get some idea of how Iong it wouId take, just to get the conditions right...
Just mundane things Iike how much usabIe Iighting do you get in a day.
So you're not going to use any artificiaI Iight.
And I'm onIy going to use materiaIs that Vermeer wouId have had.
So, I'm going to force myseIf into the constraint of having to grind the pigments and, you know, make the paint, and use onIy pigments that he had access to or that he used in his paintings.
For his experiment, Tim wanted to recreate, as closely as possible, the conditions that Vermeer was working with.
Back then you couIdn't just run down to the paint store and pick up a tube of paint, so Tim had to Iearn how to grind and mix the pigments, which I'm now taIking about something I know nothing about, but of grinding the pigments and adding in the oiI and however you make paint.
If it were Ieft to me to make paint, there wouId be no paint.
I aIso Iearnt how to make Ienses.
I couIdn't use a modern Iens, they're too good.
So I had to buiId one.
So I had to make the form on a Iathe, I had to meIt the gIass, I had to poIish it with various grades of abrasives, just the way they made Ienses in the 1 7th century.
To be sure he was getting everything right, Tim took some time off of work to fly to Holland.
He visited Delft, the city where Vermeer had lived, and studied the light and the architecture.
So this is it, this is where Vermeer painted those magicaI Iight pictures.
He learnt to read Dutch, he consulted with experts, measured furniture in museums, and immersed himself in Vermeer's world.
AII right, so move it in. Okay, good.
I wouId Iike to get one exactIy Iike this. Do you think you couId make one?
That's possibIe, yes.
When he got back to San Antonio, Tim rented a warehouse that faced North, just like Vermeer's studio, and invited Professor Philip Steadman over from London to look over his experiment.
While some believe that Vermeer painted from his imagination, Steadman found evidence that Vermeer used optics.
Steadman is the author of Vermeer's Camera. ln this book, Steadman analyses six of Vermeer's paintings to determine the layout of Vermeer's studio.
Then he uses geometry to figure out where the lens in a camera obscura would have to go to match each painting's viewpoint.
Now he calculates the size of the projection on Vermeer's back wall, and compares that to the size of the corresponding painting.
For all six, the sizes match exactly. lt doesn't seem like that would happen by chance.
Pretty convincing evidence that Vermeer used a lens.
WeII, teII me about what you're doing.
Steadman's discovery fit perfectly with Tim's mirror, so now Tim set up a test that would use both.
And this, we wiII make an attempt at painting this.
-Okay. -Using the mirror.
So, now Iet's go inside the booth.
He and Steadman would try to paint a jug using his comparator mirror inside a camera obscura, as Tim thought Vermeer had done.
They take turns painting. lt doesn't matter who does the brushstrokes, the process is objective, and any painter who uses it, gets the same result.
David Hockney's book came out just after mine.
What do you remember about the reaction?
There was quite a controversy around both books, wasn't there?
Enormous, yes, yes.
There was a Iot of upset, a reaIIy deep anguish amongst the art historians.
The painters were reIaxed.
They said, you know, ''This is a technoIogy, fine, okay.''
But there was something, a reaIIy deep hurt amongst some of the art historians which was to do with intrusion of amateurs and crass rationaIists into the preserves of art history.
It was to do with a misunderstanding of the nature of art and cheating and genius, and the idea that an opticaI method is some sort of cheat, because these are very accurate, measured perspectives.
So, there are two ways you can do them. You can produce them opticaIIy, or you can set them up geometricaIIy.
If you set them up geometricaIIy, you're using the standard methods, it's a machine, it's an aIgorithm, you appIy the ruIes.
Why is that not cheating?
-ExactIy. -Strange, isn't it?
So, the onIy Iegitimate way to make a painting is to just waIk up to the canvas, and aIIa prima paint it.
But the reason it isn't cheating is that it's hard.
-Yes. -It's geometry, it's mathematics.
-WeII, this certainIy is not easy. -This is not easy, no.
-If Vermeer did this, it wasn't a time saver. -No, indeed.
I can't comprehend that someone couId paint that from their imagination.
No. Of course not.
A human being is pretty remarkabIe sometimes.
To get objects at their true sizes, and to get aII the kind of Iuminous effects...
Painters can do miracuIous things, it's difficuIt to say, ''This is impossibIe,'' but some things are more impossibIe than others.
I was gonna go right off the edge there.
-Great. WeII, congratuIations. -And you.
I want to think that this simpIe, eIegant device is something that Vermeer couId have used.
There's no doubt it's practicaI, and it's simpIe.
You know, it's a pIain mirror.
This is a 1 7th-century technoIogy, they knew aII about mirrors, and you can imagine him perhaps thinking of something Iike what Tim has thought of, but we know nothing from a documentary point of view of how Vermeer worked, there are no descriptions by him, by other peopIe, there are no drawings...
We know very IittIe about his Iife.
So the onIy reaI source of information to answer a question Iike that wouId be the paintings themseIves.
Using Tim's device, it isn't easy, but somehow it does turn you into a machine.
You become a machine. Was Vermeer a machine?
Maybe Vermeer was strong-minded enough to think, ''I'II become a machine''.
That little picture of the jug took Tim and Steadman eight and a half hours to paint, and Tim's method worked.
But they were painting in black and white, and using powerful electric light that wouldn't have been around in Vermeer's day.
Would Tim's mirror work well enough to paint The Music Lesson, in full colour, in natural light?
To find that out Tim would need Vermeer's room, and everything in it.
But museums don't loan stuff from the 1600s to video engineers with a wacky hobby.
It wouId be nice if I couId have hired somebody to buiId aII this but it was kind of an interactive process, you know, I had to first modeI the room in LightWave 3D, working from the painting to get the dimensions and the shapes right.
Even though it was a Iot of work, it was just easier for me to do it, because as I went I couId make sure that the furniture Iooked Iike the furniture in the Vermeers.
But Tim is not a dressmaker.
Or a framer.
Or a carpenter. Upholsterer.
Builder of virginals, which is a type of harpsichord.
Or a lens maker.
But he's not an artist either.
He used what he was, a technologist, to help him become all those things he wasn't, so that he could build his room.
This is fun.
I mean, this is the reaI thing.
Is it safe for there to be that much smoke?
I don't know, I've never done this before!
CouId it heat up and catch fire?
-WeII, I guess. I don't know. -Whatever!
It's kind of cooI. Okay, here we go.
Okay, I got a probIem with the virginaIs Ieg.
It's supposed to be 36 and a haIf inches Iong, but my Iathe onIy goes about 34 inches.
I mean, I couId make the Ieg in two pieces.
But I think what I'm gonna do is I'm going to cut the Iathe in two.
GeneraIIy, you don't take a fine precision machine tooI and saw it in haIf, but power tooIs are made to be jury-rigged.
Yeah, it's a big guitar.
VioIa da gamba is caIIed a ''vioIa da gamba'' because ''gamba'' means Ieg, and you pIay it between your Iegs.
I Iike it.
I don't know much about woodworking.
So I'm doing this, not out of Iove for woodworking, but out of necessity because you just can't buy these stupid chairs anywhere, and I need one.
David Hockney is one of Britain's greatest artists.
He's famous for paintings like this.
Since his optical theory got Tim started on this journey, he seemed the ideal person for Tim to talk to.
Hockney invited us to visit, so we all went to England.
What l knew about David Hockney was that he was a famous artist.
But, reading his book, l could see that he wasn't a typical artist, that he was somewhat a scientist.
PhiIip Steadman and David Hockney, to my mind, to the mind of a sceptic, prove that Vermeer used some sort of device.
But Secret Knowledge, and aII the PhiIip Steadman work, are this wonderfuI, exciting, tingIy whodunit, that never teIIs you who did it.
Hockney showed that artists were using lenses.
Steadman argued that Vermeer was using a lens. l believed that Vermeer must have been using more than just a lens.
The reason to go see Hockney was to bounce this idea off him and see if he thought it was plausible.
How did you figure this out? What are you, a...
WeII, I started thinking about it after I read your book, and...
Are you an opticaI... I mean...
I design teIevision equipment.
-That's my job. -I see.
So I know a bit about coIour and imagery.
And I suspected Iooking at these oId pictures from the GoIden Age, Caravaggio, Vermeer, van Eyck, that there must have been a way to copy the tones.
Because that's what's quite remarkabIe, actuaIIy. Yes, it is.
I need to stand on that side of the tabIe for a second.
So it's a mirror on a stick.
This is what I saw when I was painting, if you Iook straight down.
And of course I started with a bIank...
I see, yes. Yeah, yeah.
And you can move your head up and down and you can see different parts of the image.
And that's how you work your way from one part to the other.
Now right at the edge of the mirror, where you see both images, you can do a direct comparison of the tone.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
And your eye can instantIy see, because they're together, can see any contrast, and the edge of the mirror basicaIIy disappears.
When you have the right coIour and onIy when you have the right coIour.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I see. This is very ingenious.
So you notice that there is no paraIIax when you move your head, there is no shifting.
-That's it, no. -The two images stay Iocked together.
-Why is that? -Want to Iook through it?
-How is that? -I know, it's very cIever.
I must say, the idea that the ItaIians, when you think about the ItaIians, they Iove pictures, the idea that they didn't use this because this wouId have been cheating, I find chiIdish, absoIuteIy chiIdish.
There's aIso this modern idea that art and technoIogy must never meet.
You know, you go to schooI for technoIogy or you go to schooI for art but never for both.
But in the GoIden Age, they were one and the same person.
The interesting thing is that if this was around then, we are seeing photographs.
If they were using this and exactIy copying that coIour.
Yeah, weII, I mean...
-It's a photo. -Yeah.
After seeing this, I mean, it's not a compIicated piece of equipment, but how IikeIy do you think it is that they may have done this?
-I think it's very IikeIy. -ReaIIy.
Very IikeIy. Yeah, yeah, absoIuteIy IikeIy.
I mean, I'm pretty positive optics...
I mean, there's no expIanation for the paintings without optics.
But, you know, historicaI evidence, it'd be great to find a Iost Ietter from Johannes Vermeer...
Wait a minute.
I put a joke Ietter in Secret Knowledge.
A joke Ietter.
This is what historians were Iooking for. From Hugo van der Goes to van Eyck.
''CouId you go to ye Brugge Mirror SuppIy Company
''and get one of those makeup mirrors for my wife, you know what I mean?''
WeII, I said, ''You'II never find a Ietter Iike that.''
-Yeah. -They never wrote down...
Van Eyck wouId not write down the formuIas for the paint for the simpIe reason that somebody might read them.
And there were other peopIe that wouIdn't write 'em down.
PeopIe were sworn to secrecy, oaths that they took very seriousIy.
You won't, you never... It's naive to think you'II find something.
Paintings are documents, aren't they? Aren't they teIIing you a Iot?
Paintings are documents.
They contain the story of their own creation.
Every brushstroke, every layer of colour, every shadow represents another piece of information.
To the trained eye, a painting can be read as accurately as any written text.
And you don't need a trained eye to see that Vermeer's look different from his contemporaries.
They look like video images.
He painted the way a camera sees.
Ever since photography was invented, people have been noticing optical things about Vermeer.
On the GirI with the Red Hat, there's this lion's head in the foreground that's fuzzy.
Your eye naturally refocuses on whatever you're looking at, so something in the foreground is not going to appear to your eye as out of focus.
But it could be out of focus if the image was projected with a lens.
The so-called pointilles, these little circles of paint, look similar to what you get in a bad lens.
You look at the back of her jacket and there's a faint blue line.
And that looks a lot like chromatic aberration which is what happens in a crude lens.
The edges of objects can develop this rainbow fringe around them.
This faIIoff of Iight from the window to the opposite corner is something that an artist reaIIy cannot see the way a camera sees it.
It's impossibIe to see it.
But Vermeer painted it the way a camera sees it.
Is it possibIe that some peopIe can see absoIute brightness, and most peopIe, can't?
You know, the way a musician might have perfect pitch?
You know, that's a question for a doctor.
I'm CoIin BIakemore. I'm a professor at Oxford.
Or a scientist that speciaIises in human vision.
And I've spent most of my career studying vision and the functions of the brain.
Is Vermeer maybe some sort of a savant that's different from the rest of the human race?
What if someone said, ''Maybe there's a savant who is so smart, that he couId figure that out.''
WeII, he's not smart. I mean, he'd have to have a very strange retina.
Our retinas are made the way they're made.
The retina is an outgrowth of the brain.
It's a very compIicated structure in terms of its nervous organisation.
The signaIs go through a compIicated network, severaI Iayers of different types of nerve ceIIs, before they finaIIy get back to the Iast ceIIs in the chain whose fibres make up the optic nerve.
The optic nerve has limited bandwidth, so the signals have to be compressed.
One thing we lose in that compression is the ability to record absolute brightness the way a light metre can.
When we see two values side by side, it's easy to compare them.
But when we split them, that ability goes away.
There just isn't any mechanism in the human nervous system to turn the eye into a Iight metre.
And this is a very cIever trick for reducing information, but it's a disaster if you reaIIy want to know about the appearance of the scene because you just can't do it with your brain.
Look at the light on the back wall of The Music Lesson.
Every subtlety of brightness is recorded with absolute photographic precision.
The unaided human eye is not equipped to do that.
But if Vermeer used something like Tim's device, the painting becomes possible.
The Queen of England owns Vermeer's Music Lesson and she has it there in Buckingham Palace.
We thought since we were in England, we'd stop by the palace and check it out.
But the Queen said no. So we shot a whole tirade against the Queen.
WeII, I just came out of that buiIding.
That's where the painting is, Buckingham PaIace.
The day before Tim returned home, the Queen changed her Royal mind.
She granted Tim a private audience with The Music Lesson.
He had 30 minutes to study the painting.
The deal was, he could only record the experience in his head, no photography allowed.
And it was a great 30 minutes.
The painting is amazing.
It's very different than I thought it wouId be.
The reproductions don't do it any justice at aII.
The coIours are more muted.
It's sIightIy darker, it's got a kind of an overaII bIuish cast.
But the astounding thing is the amount of detaiI.
I put on my magnifying binocuIars and Iooked at the virginaIs, and every stroke of that decoration is there.
The Persian carpet, you can see the individuaI knots.
The amount of devotion, or dedication, or obsession to get that amount of detaiI that just makes a generaI impression on the viewer, but must have taken months of hard work.
I don't know if I can even come cIose.
When Tim got back to San Antonio, he was in trouble.
When he looked directly at the virginals, he could see the intricate pattern of interlocking seahorses that Vermeer painted.
When he looked at the projection in his camera obscura, all those delicate little lines were too fuzzy and dim to paint. lt was a deal-killer. l had visions of a failed experiment.
Tim knew there was something he was missing.
He experimented with increasingly complex arrangements of lenses and mirrors.
But nothing worked.
Then Tim had an inspiration.
He held a mirror against the wall where the image was being projected.
Now he could see a small circle of the room sharp and clear and hundreds of times brighter.
By tilting the mirror around, he could see any part of the room he needed to paint.
Then he realised if he just replaced the flat mirror with a concave mirror, like a shaving mirror, he could make the bright circle much larger.
So I reaIised that if I couId have an image that bright, I didn't have to have this darkroom, I couId paint in dayIight, which is a huge, huge breakthrough.
Tim started in the dark room.
But the room is gone.
The back wall is a concave mirror.
All that's left of the traditional camera obscura is the lens.
Tim had invented a new optical instrument or, perhaps, rediscovered a lost one. ln it, he could see well enough to attempt Vermeer's level of detail.
He had his room. He had his machine.
He was now ready to paint.
Boy, you know, I'm not trying to make this Iook Iike a Vermeer, but it reaIIy Iooks Iike a Vermeer.
I was cIeaning up, and getting ready to put my paIette away, caII it a day's work, and I Iooked up at the monitor.
I thought, ''Man, that camera got pointed in the wrong direction, it's pointed at the room.
''How did that happen?''
And that's the thought that went through my head for just a coupIe miIIiseconds before I reaIised, ''No, I'm Iooking at the painting.''
And it was just kind of Iike a...
You know, this project is a Iot Iike watching paint dry.
l can paint the costumes by putting them on mannequins.
But to paint faces and hands, l need to use people.
l do everything l can to help them hold still. lt sort of works.
My daughter CIaire is home for a month from coIIege.
And it's time to paint the girl, so I put two and two together, and used CIaire.
Her two sisters, are also in town, Luren and Natalie.
So they worked on fitting the costume and doing her hair so that it looks like the girl in the picture.
When they got aII that on, she was a dead ringer for the IittIe Dutch girI.
With that completed, we put her in the head clamp, and positioned her just right.
Few students have ever been happier to go back to school.
I may repaint that.
Excuse me a second. The wind's trying to bIow my shade down. l thought you were having a ghost visitation.
Piece of shit.
We're gonna have to go to pIan B here.
The frame that has my window, and my shades and stuff, it came Ioose and it feII over and I think everything's okay.
I tend to buiId things untiI they're just bareIy good enough.
And sometimes that enveIope gets exceeded.
So if anything falls askew, your painting's in no danger, is that correct?
No, I wouIdn't say that.
-Okay. -But, you know, I can aIways start over.
Another interesting thing happened.
What I noticed whiIe I was Iooking at this, I can see the straight Iines of the seahorse there, and I can see the straight Iines that I've ruIed aIready on the canvas, the framework of the virginaIs.
AII those are perfectIy straight Iines because I Iaid 'em out with a straight edge before I painted them.
WeII, when I am trying to aIign this very cIose now, within a tiny fraction, I can see that this straight Iine isn't quite straight in the refIection.
It's ever so sIightIy curved.
ProbabIy not enough to throw me off now that I'm aware of it, but if I had just IiteraIIy painted that seahorse pattern, it wouId have ended up curved Iike this.
And, so, I don't know why, but I went over and I picked up the Vermeer print.
And I go, ''WeII, obviousIy Vermeer had no troubIe
''painting those Iines straight.''
And then, I heId the painting sideways Iike this and I'm Iooking down these straight Iines.
And there's something reaIIy crazy about this.
The top and the bottom of the virginaIs are absoIuteIy straight.
Because when I Iook at it down here at an angIe, I can see that it's a straight Iine.
The seahorse motif is curved.
It goes Iike this.
You can't reaIIy teII untiI you Iook at it right down those Iines, but...
There is a curvature in there.
And there's reaIIy no IogicaI expIanation for that unIess he was using something Iike this.
Tim caIIs that bend in the seahorse pattern the ''seahorse smiIe.''
It's a fIaw in Vermeer's painting.
A mistake that nobody noticed for 350 years, and then Tim aImost made the same mistake.
Tim is not Iooking for something that wiII dupIicate Vermeer's mistake.
You know, he doesn't know Vermeer's mistake is there.
That's either a remarkabIe coincidence or Vermeer was using Tim's machine, or something very much Iike Tim's machine to do his painting.
As Hockney said, paintings are documents, and here's a IittIe bit of evidence.
Today I painted the seahorse motif.
It was a Iot of work. I couIdn't reaIIy sit here for more than 15, 20 minutes at a time.
Your back just gets extremeIy tense.
I tried to sit in the most reIaxed position I couId find, which is Iike this.
It's just reaIIy nerve-wracking, meticuIous, demanding work.
I'm not Iooking forward to doing the rest of the instrument, but at Ieast I know it's doabIe.
What I painted today is maybe, I expect wiII turn out to be the hardest part of the painting, physicaIIy, to do.
WeII, yeah this is going to be short because it's about 40 degrees in here.
So KarI and I came in here this morning, and Iooked at each other, Iike, ''No.'' You know, it's reaIIy coId in here.
So I go, ''Wait, I've got this heater in the garage that I never assembIed.
''I got it for Christmas a few years ago, it's one of those patio heaters.''
So, KarI said, ''Hey, I'II put it together, Iet's go get it.''
So we went and got it, and put it together, it's over there.
And fired it up and it worked great. It's nice and toasty, you know?
KarI was sittin' over there with his computer, and I said, ''Hey, Iook up on there to see if it's safe to use these indoors.''
And KarI Iooks up and says, ''Yeah, you know it says here it's absoIuteIy not safe to use indoors.''
And I said, ''Okay. WeII, Iet's just run it
''and we'II be carefuI, okay?
''So if we notice any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, you know, ''we'II shut it off.''
So I start painting, and I actuaIIy painted an eIephant on The Music Lesson.
I don't know why I put it there, but it seemed Iike a good idea at the time.
KarI actuaIIy, he put his head down, and he said, ''I need a nap.''
I said, ''What did you say?'' He said, ''I need a nap.''
I said, ''Okay, Iet's Ieave right now.''
''Let's shut this thing off and go get Iunch.''
And on the way to Iunch, driving to Iunch, everything sort of cIeared up again, you know, we were in a fog.
So anyway, that was a bad idea.
It was kind of a weird day.
I came in and started painting this Iower cushion, and sort of a wave of revulsion swept over me.
l just wanted to do anything in the world but sit here and paint for some reason.
I don't know, just one of those things.
But I am pretty much ready for this painting to be finished.
If we weren't making a fiIm, wouId I quit?
Yeah, I definiteIy wouId. Yeah. I'd find something eIse to do right now.
WeII, yesterday when I was painting this chair, I was aImost
repuIsed by it.
I think maybe subconsciousIy I knew that it was wrong.
And it just didn't Iook Iike it beIonged in the painting to me, and I couIdn't put my finger on the reason why.
And as I was trying to get to sIeep Iast night, I was just sort of Iaying there and I was visuaIizing that chair and I couId see it in my mind.
And I go, ''You know, that's just the wrong bIue.
''l should darken the legs. ''
The top of the chair can't possibly be tilted to the left. lt's like l'm seeing it and that can't possibly be right. l realised that l had bumped the lens out of position and that's why the chair's perspective was wrong.
It was totaIIy a subconscious thing.
Maybe I do have an inner artist that knew that was wrong.
I thought that the rug wouId be a IittIe more free-form painting.
But this rug is cIose enough to the opticaI equipment here that l can clearly see all those little stitches.
And since I can see that, and since my ruIe is ''paint what you see in the mirror,'' if I want to get that kind of detaiI, I'm gonna have to sort of make Iike the harpsichord here and just go for the detaiI.
So, another day, more dots.
Just painting more dots.
You know, it gets oId painting this carpet.
Oh, my God.
Okay, so I've been franticaIIy running around here, setting up Iights.
And it shows.
Today is the denouement, of sorts.
The varnish job.
For the last several months l've been promising myself that all would be better when the varnish went on.
Because as the paint dries, it gets light, it gets chalky, it desaturates. l've been very anxious to do this.
l went along slowly with a small brush and finally l just grabbed a giant brush, sloshed it in the varnish and just started going to town.
And everywhere l touched was magic.
lt's pretty astounding.
WeII, you know, today...
Today's the day I've been waiting for.
I can't beIieve it's finished.
We took Tim's painting back to England to show Hockney and Steadman.
WeII, that's it.
So, you know, it's my first ambitious attempt at oiI painting, and that's kind of part of the experiment, that I'm not a painter, but I was trying to show the power of the concept.
This is terrific, I must say.
We noticed this when we were doing our Iens experiments.
We noticed that especiaIIy on these kind of cIoths, on the projection you saw every weave that you couIdn't in the reaI one, and you get that in Vermeer.
Now that's very, very effective. Anybody Iooking at this...
-I think this is better than Vermeer. -Better than Vermeer?
You do feeI the weave of the carpet.
Yeah, you reaIIy do.
It Iooks actuaIIy wooIIy, doesn't it?
It had to be something simiIar, it had to be.
I mean, there's no doubt that you've proved one thing, Tim, that you can paint a painting of this degree of detaiI and precision in...
WeII, it's not exactIy a camera obscura, but it's an opticaI machine.
And that's reaIIy what I set out to prove, is that it couId have been done that way.
Sure. I mean there's no doubt about that.
There's no way that it proves that Vermeer did.
That's the second question obviousIy, yes. Did Vermeer work that way?
Yeah, but it makes you rather convinced that's what he did.
I'm getting a IittIe more convinced aII the time.
I wouId say I'm about 90% there.
But, you know, if there was some historicaI record...
I mean, the idea that a painting isn't a historicaI record is from Iiterary peopIe who seem to just not Iook at pictures and just read texts.
This is a document in itseIf.
I know peopIe are going on about documents.
Paintings and drawings are documents, they teII you a great deaI.
You've made a document that's proving something, it is.
I mean, you set out to do some research.
I think you've succeeded and, weII, you've shown it's possibIe to do it.
-As I say, if you've recorded it very weII... -Yeah, yeah.
I think it might disturb quite a Iot of peopIe.
-I certainIy hope so. -Which is fine, that's fine. Why not?
My friend Tim painted a Vermeer. ln a warehouse, in San Antonio.
He painted a Vermeer.
And is Tim an artist, or is Tim an inventor? l think the problem is not trying to pick one of those two for Tim to be, but the problem is that we have that distinction.
What Tim has done is given us an image of Vermeer as a man who is much more real, and in that way much more amazing. l mean, unfathomable genius doesn't really mean anything.
Now he's a fathomable genius.
lf there's any great merit in this picture as a work of art, it's Vermeer's. lt's Vermeer's composition and it's Vermeer's invention. lt's just been forgotten for 350 years.