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Hound in the Hunt

My name is Tim and I have discovered a new way to paint realistic pictures. My device allows any painter to paint photo-realistically. It’s simple, elegant and very powerful. What is it?

It's a mirror.

That’s right. Just a small mirror mounted to a stick, placed in exactly the right position and used in a very specific way. The process isn’t at all obvious, and maybe that’s why no one has discovered it before.

However, I strongly suspect someone did discover it—centuries ago; that a handful of painters used the process and didn’t talk about it. Perhaps a few of the great masterpieces from the Golden Age were created using this process, and are essentially handmade photographs made long before the invention of photography.

The film Tim’s Vermeer documents my first attempts to paint by this process. I am not a painter but the process worked. I used seventeenth-century optics to reproduce The Music Lesson by Johannes Vermeer.

The reaction from art historians to what I did was, shall we say, mixed. One experiment about one painting by one Dutch artist, perpetrated by one nut job in Texas (me) doesn’t prove anything!

David Walsh saw Tim’s Vermeer and called me on the phone. He was intrigued, but wanted more. He asked if we could do some new experiments with my process as an installation at Mona. I agreed. The result of our collaboration is Hound in the Hunt.

Several highly accomplished painters will try using this optical technique at Mona to re-create paintings by Johannes Vermeer, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Willem Heda, from live models and life-sized scenery right on the museum floor. Vermeer expert and painter Jonathan Janson will make two versions of the same painting, one with, and one without, my process.

You can watch the results of the experiments in real time as they unfold. See The Music Lesson, 1662–65, I painted in Tim’s Vermeer, and my recent attempt at Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665, using my daughter Claire as a model. You can even try the process yourself. We’ll hand you a pencil and show you how to use the simple, but powerful mirror on a stick.

This exhibition scares me. It's science being conducted as live art and vice versa. Whatever happens will be beyond my control, David Walsh's control, and the control of these artists.

I have no idea what will result, especially when a lot more painters, with a lot more skill than I have, try this process. But we may learn something new about seventeenth-century art, right before our eyes. The game is afoot. The Hunt is on!

—Tim Jenison

A conversation between David Walsh and Tim Jenison about Vermeer, Viagra, and the nature of genius.


  • When:

    2 July–31 December 2016


Cover of Hound in the Hunt exhibition catalogue on a black background