A New Dutch Reality TV Show Challenges Contestants to Paint Like Vermeer–and It’s a Hit!

Jokes about “real­i­ty tele­vi­sion” being a con­tra­dic­tion in terms go as far back in pop-cul­ture his­to­ry as the for­mat itself. But the fact remains that, delib­er­ate­ly or oth­er­wise, its pro­grams do reflect cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics of the soci­eties that pro­duce them. Before turn­ing into one of the most glob­al­ly suc­cess­ful fran­chis­es of this cen­tu­ry’s real­i­ty-TV boom, the once-con­tro­ver­sial strangers-in-a-house show Big Broth­er pre­miered in the Nether­lands. It will be left as an exer­cise to the read­er what that says about the Dutch, who have been tun­ing in to a very dif­fer­ent kind of real­i­ty pro­gram­ming in the past month: De Nieuwe Ver­meer, or The New Ver­meer.

Aired in con­junc­tion with the Rijksmu­se­um’s largest Ver­meer exhi­bi­tion ever staged, the show invites “two pro­fes­sion­al painters and dozens of ama­teur artists to com­pete to rein­vent the lost works of the 17th-cen­tu­ry mas­ter,” writes the New York Times’ Nina Sie­gal.

“The results are judged by Ver­meer experts from the Rijksmu­se­um, the Dutch nation­al muse­um in Ams­ter­dam, and from the Mau­rit­shuis, a col­lec­tion of old mas­ters in The Hague.” The pro­fes­sion­als face such tasks as faith­ful­ly recon­struct­ing Ver­meer’s lost works, whether they van­ished cen­turies ago or in the Isabel­la Stew­art Gard­ner Muse­um theft of 1990. The ama­teurs work in their own media, includ­ing “stained glass, print­mak­ing and even Lego.”

All this has made The New Ver­meer “an instant sen­sa­tion in the Nether­lands, with 1.3 mil­lion view­ers (in a coun­try of 17 mil­lion) tun­ing in for the first episode.” Like any suc­cess­ful real­i­ty TV show these days, it has also inspired a wealth of sup­ple­men­tary con­tent, includ­ing a pod­cast and an online gallery show­ing all the art­work cre­at­ed by the con­tes­tants. “You can’t cur­rent­ly watch the series in the U.S., writes Art­net’s Sarah Cas­cone, “but the net­work is stream­ing a week­ly YouTube ‘Mas­ter­class’ ” offer­ing “step-by-step instruc­tions on how to cre­ate your own Ver­meer can­vas.” At the moment, those videos are avail­able only in Dutch, pre­sum­ably on the assump­tion that The New Ver­meer won’t trav­el well out­side the Nether­lands. But if, by some slim chance, it turned into a Big Broth­er-scale phe­nom­e­non, imag­ine the gold­en age of real­i­ty TV that would lie ahead.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Down­load All 36 of Jan Vermeer’s Beau­ti­ful­ly Rare Paint­ings (Most in Bril­liant High Res­o­lu­tion)

A Guid­ed Tour Through All of Vermeer’s Famous Paint­ings, Nar­rat­ed by Stephen Fry

What Makes Vermeer’s The Milk­maid a Mas­ter­piece?: A Video Intro­duc­tion

Mas­ter of Light: A Close Look at the Paint­ings of Johannes Ver­meer Nar­rat­ed by Meryl Streep

Why is Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring Con­sid­ered a Mas­ter­piece?: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion

Meet Noto­ri­ous Art Forg­er Han Van Meegeren, Who Fooled the Nazis with His Coun­ter­feit Ver­meers

Lis­ten to Last Seen, a True-Crime Pod­cast That Takes You Inside an Unsolved, $500 Mil­lion Art Heist

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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