Many art gallery visitors have had the feeling that at any moment, the painting they are looking at could suddenly spring into to life. A Dutch artist has taken this concept as his inspiration, and has not only given life to some of the Netherlands’ most famous masterpieces, but has examined how the paintings’ ‘sets’ could have looked at different points of the day, bringing a narrative and a concept of time to a formerly static image.
Menno Otten has been fascinated with recreating Vermeer’s famous still lifes through timelapse films. His latest work features Vermeer’s ‘Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window’, completed in approximately 1657 – 1659.
Light streams in from a window on the left of the painting, illuminating a young girl at the centre of the picture. “I chose this specific painting because the story of the painting uses light as a strong metaphor: the girl is reading a letter from her husband who is far away at sea. The light from the window represents the light of his love shining on her,” explains Menno.
Otten’s film is a 14 minute loop, in which the girl very slowly picks up and reads the letter. 24 hours of sunlight has been replicated to reflect Vermeer’s Camera Obscura technique, with the film starting and fading to black. Viewers are able to observe how the changing time of day and the girl’s slow moments effect shadows and highlights within the picture.
“By starting from black, I wanted to represent the light ‘waking’ her, and as she reads on, the love and light become stronger and stronger. But as she realises that her love is still so far away, the light begins to fade again,” Menno continues. “You can imagine the process happening again and again with every letter she receives, so what was a still moment now becomes a repeating narrative inside our installation, as the film loops and loops.”
No visual effects were used in recreating the painting’s set. Props and costumes were sourced from the 17th century and every millimetre in the painting was replicated in painstakingly minute detail. Therefore expert color grading of the film was the critical element – not only for reproducing the masterpiece itself, but ensuring the correct light and shade as the sunlight changes constantly throughout the film.
Colourist Barry Clarke was responsible for this vital part of the artwork and brought his 15 years’ experience of working with DaVinci Resolve to the project.
[one_half last=”no”]“The starting point was to find the frame in the middle of the film that would become the exact replica of the painting itself. The film was shot using Fuji 35mm, with the data scanned at 3K in RAW format, which gave me plenty of detail to work with, vital for ensuring the film matched the painting exactly. Once that frame was correctly graded, I was able to work forward and back to ensure the right shadows and reflections were in place to balance the changing daylight.”
The grading was able to explore what would happen to Vermeer’s distinctive colour palette when the daylight changed; something that has never before been attempted.
“I’ve been working with DaVinci Resolve for over 15 years now, and it’s my go to system, as it gives me the flexibility and high quality image control that I require, particularly for a job such as this that requires exact replication as well as artistic flair. Menno’s films really bring the Old Masters to life, and help people to imagine the story that sits behind a previously still image. The grading is an essential part of this, and I’m really proud of our collaboration.”
The installation is going through its final stages and Menno is considering the most appropriate galleries to display the installation. “I truly believe that this piece tells us something new about one of the greatest painters of light who ever lived,” concluded Menno.