10. THE MADNESS OF VERMEER
(2003, Written and Presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon, Directed by Roger Parsons)
Andrew Graham-Dixon’s BBC film, The Madness of Vermeer, is the finest documentary about an artist that I have ever seen, successfully conveying the intricate genius of the great 17th century Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer (It certainly does so more successfully than Girl With a Pearl Earring, the feature film about Vermeer’s most famous painting that was released in the same year and that The Madness of Vermeer was ostensibly a television tie-in with.).
Graham-Dixon is probably Britain’s premier television art historian, having made several series for the BBC about the art of many countries, including Britain, America and China. However, his finest series may be the three-part The Secret Lives of the Great Artists, of which The Madness of Vermeer is the stand-out. Graham-Dixon travels to Vermeer’s home town of Delft to tell the story of Vermeer’s extraordinary life and art, culminating in an exquisite analysis of one of his most famous paintings, View of Delft, which shows the remarkable lengths Vermeer went to in order to create the effect of sunlight on rainy rooftops. Graham-Dixon sees this image as the perfect metaphor for Vermeer’s own life, which at the end was turbulent and tragic but ultimately left a legacy of astonishingly beautiful art.