Johannes Vermeer died nearly 350 years ago, but his work continues to evoke inspiration and passion.
Shot largely in New York (home to a third of the world's Vermeer paintings) VIEWS ON VERMEER also travels to Holland, France, London and Washington, introducing us to artists, writers and photographers whose lives and work have been touched by the painter from Delft.
Vermeer has long been admired for the sense of peacefulness that infuses his work. Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf says what he has learned about portraiture from Vermeer is that "nothing really happens." One woman reads a letter. Another pours milk. Both their actions are captured in a moment of stillness. "A life is being lived in those paintings—a small moment," says photographer Joel Meyerowitz. "That small moment is where Vermeer and photography meet."
The film highlights artists whose work is directly inspired by Vermeer, and others for whom the connection to the old master is less direct, yet no less vital.
London-based painter Tom Hunter's work depicts friends and neighbors facing eviction from their homes in compositions drawn from Vermeer. Meanwhile, photographers such as Meyerowitz and Philip-Lorca diCorcia draw on Vermeer more indirectly. diCorcia's "Hustlers" series features male prostitutes posed in tableaus whose lighting and compositions are reminiscent of Vermeer's. And as in Vermeer's work, diCorcia's images "reveal themselves slowly."
One of the more striking sequences in the film juxtaposes the work of Girl with a Pearl Earring novelist Tracy Chevalier with that of Steve McCurry—the photographer who shot the famous Afghan girl photo that appeared on the cover of National Geographic. For Chevalier, the Vermeer painting on which she based the book was not simply a portrait; it captured a moment in a relationship. McCurry compares the Afghan girl—seeing a western male for the first time—to the girl with the pearl earring. Each demonstrates a moment when "the mundane becomes magical."
Despite the peacefulness of his work, Vermeer lived in a world wracked by violence. Writer Lawrence Weschler (Vermeer in Bosnia) notes that the sense of calm in a painting of Vermeer's hometown—where a recent explosion had killed hundreds—is akin to a portrait of post-9/11 Manhattan. The sense of peacefulness filling the work is not simply aesthetic. It is a political statement wrenched from a world at war.
Many of those featured in the film point to the lack of verisimilitude in much of Vermeer's work. Bricks may not really look the way Vermeer paints them. Certain reflections and highlights may be physically impossible. Yet his work captures something fundamental about reality—something beyond the purely physical. We are surrounded by inexpensive digital equipment that offers the illusion of instantly photographing or filming reality. The work of Vermeer and the artists he has influenced is an invitation to the opposite approach. As artist Chuck Close says, "Vermeer painted the situation of bricks, rather than individual bricks."
Featuring interviews with painters Tom Hunter, Chuck Close, and Jonathan Janson; photographers Erwin Olaf, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Joel Meyerowitz and Steve McCurry; writers Tracy Chevalier, Lawrence Weschler, and Alain de Botton; architect Philip Steadman; curators Walter Liedtke, and Arthur Wheelock; art historian Geoffrey Batchen, and art dealer Otto Naumann.
"VIEWS ON VERMEER provides thought provoking viewing for both the general and academic audience, and offers a gentle, comfortable 'exercise of the brain' that sparks a desire for more contemplation and discussion." —Educational Media Reviews Online, February 2012
"Much of the film is quite marvelous: relaxed yet lively, modest but confident. It's like a series of bracing conversations about an endlessly interesting subject." —Mark Feeney, The Boston Globe
★★★★ "VIEWS ON VERMEER is a delightful, impressionistic meditation on the many ways the elusive and allusive Vermeer continues to inform, inspire and provoke the contemporary imagination." —The Globe and Mail
"Required viewing for any Vermeer fan." —NOW Magazine
"One of the very best [films ever made about art]." —The Star