**Page updated January, 2008** and PDF files of Cross patents added
Vermeer's Camera (Anson K. Cross 1934)

Yes, Yes we know that it is not the camera used by Vermeer but that is what it was called by its inventor, Anson Kent Cross (1862-1944). The camera is dated September 18, 1934 in a list of 22 of his inventions that Cross published. Our instrument is marked "Patent Applied For" but was granted a patent on September 18, 1934. The title of the parent is "Color Finder and Method for the Study of Painting" which is not quite as romantic as "Vermeer's Camera". Click this link and the patent for Vermeer's Camera will open in a new window as a pdf. Cross was a painter and educator who developed systems for the teaching of painting and drawing. He worked from the 1880s until his death in 1944 to promote a series of "systems" and "vision-training aids" in instruction books and at art schools such as the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston and his Anson K. Cross Art School. His writings include harsh words against the "art teaching establishment" and the art supply companies for their lack of acceptance of his theories and methods. A former student recently described him as an evangelist and the students as his disciples.

This device carries a mounted text panel on one side that explains its use. The text can be seen below. It was used in the course in "Vision Training" at his Anson K. Cross Art School. This school offered summer classes and home study courses from Boothbay Harbor, Maine in the 1930s and 1940s. The instrument does not have the feel of mass production so appears to be hand made for the school.

The text on the side and several Cross publications mention the theory that Vermeer used a camera obscura in his painting, a theory expounded since the 19th century. (No, David Hockney did not “discover” the concept!) The description of Vermeer looking at the image on a camera's ground glass next to his canvas and then painting what he saw does not match the modern theory by Philip Steadman and others that he actually drew over a projected image. As the text indicates this double viewer allowed a student to view the original subject and the painting of it side-by-side to compare tone and composition. Cross's assumption seems to be that a successful painting and the original subject should be exactly the same. In defense of Cross he does state that the viewer is to be used while the student is developing technical skill and is not to be used in making final paintings.

Each of the two boxes is 8 1/8" X 5 1/8" X 3 3/4" and they are hinged so the relationship can be changed to line up with the original and the painting. The second image on the right shows the boxes swiveled apart. This appears to be the position in use. One lens is pointed at the subject and one at the painting while the artist compares the images by looking down at the ground glasses.

A trip to Boothbay Harbor, Maine during August, 2004 allowed us to research the use of the camera obscura at the Cross Art School. We enjoyed our trip to this beautiful area and met an incredible group of helpful people.

The staff of the Boothbay Region Historical Society was wonderful. We were given access to all the material in their archives. We will add an additional page as we work our way through the wealth of information we received.

Through the internet we found that the Anson Cross home in Boothbay Harbor is now a inn called Pond House. We stayed there during our visit and highly recommend the B&B to anyone visiting the area. The owner, Mary was a perfect host and the inn was a joy. The view of the pond from the breakfast room is worth a visit in itself.

Mary introduced us to Tom Cavanaugh who owns an antique shop and art gallery, the Bay Street Studio, across the street from Pond House. This building was the Cross art school during the 30s and 40s. Tom, a well known painter and antique dealer, was very generous in showing us the building and sharing information he has learned about the school.

Above are the finders turned on their side. The ground glass screens seen on the right side are at the top when in use. The two lenses on the front focus by sliding up and down in the oval opening.

Above is a close-up of one of the two hinges on the back of the camera.

The photograph above was included in several publications. It shows the "Vermeer's Camera" with several other Cross teaching aids. We can identify the "Cross Drawing and Painting Glass" (shown below), the "Vision-training Lenses", and a rectangle of black cardboard with an arrangement of small holes. We found one of these cards in the files but have not yet found any reference to them in the books.


On the left is our "Cross" Drawing and Painting Glass for Perfecting Visual Powers which was used with the Cross system. Cross received a patent for the glass on August 9,1921.

A crayon drawing was made on the glass then held up to the subject to check that it matched perfectly. The lenses at the top were used to blur the colors of the subject and drawing so that details are reduced to masses.

Click this link and the patent for the "Cross Drawing and Painting Glass" will open in a new window as a pdf.


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