Lines and Colors art blog

Eye Candy for Today: Carel Fabritius The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch, Carel Fabritius
The Goldfinch, Carel Fabritius

The painting is part of the collection of The Mauritshuis in The Hague, Netherlands. The museum site has a page from which you can zoom or download the image from icons on the left. There is also a downloadable version on Wikipedia, which has a page devoted to the painting. There is also a good article on this painting on Essential Vermeer.

The Goldfinch is currently on loan to the National Galleries Scotland until 18 December, 2016.

This wonderful gem of a painting by 17th century Dutch master Carel Fabritius — whose life and career were tragically cut short by the explosion of the Delft powder magazine in 1654 — has been receiving quite a bit of attention in the last few years.

Partly that’s because of its reference and key role in the recent Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt — a cultural link that had visitors crowding around the painting during its appearance at the Frick Collection in New York in 2013, along with Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, several Rembrandts and other gems from The Mauritshuis.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to that show, but I have seen The Goldfinch.

Long time readers of Lines and Colors will know that I have a particular awestruck admiration for the work of Johannes Vermeer, whose work I consider transcendently sublime. In 2001, I had the opportunity to see an astonishing exhibition of Vermeer and his contemporaries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The Goldfinch was part of the exhibition. Even amid 15 stunning Vermeers along with 70 paintings and 30 drawings by other superbly accomplished painters of the Dutch Golden Age, this little painting grabbed my attention.

I don’t think it’s just because of its trompe l’oeil realism — though it certainly has that; the painting is essentially life size (the panel is roughly 13 x 9 inches, or 33 x 23 cm) and appears lifelike from a moderate distance — I think it’s because of the intersection of that illusionistic realism and the beautifully painterly technique exhibited by Fabritius.

The painting exists in that wonderful space between illusion and paint on a surface, simultaneously exhibiting the most appealing qualities of both.

Fabritius, who was a student of Rembrandt, has left us few works from his short career, but here he exhibits a bravura brush handling that wouldn’t seem out of place among the loaded brush masters of two centuries later.

The painting was owned at one point by Théophile Thoré-Bürger, a French journalist and art critic who was responsible in large part for the 19th century “rediscovery” of Vermeer, who had fallen into obscurity shortly after his death.

Thoré-Bürger felt Fabritius represented a line between Rembrandt and Vermeer, and it has been suggested by some that Fabritius might have been Vermeer’s teacher. There is no evidence to support this, but it seems likely that Vermeer, an art dealer as well as a painter, was familiar with the work of Fabritius, who was active in Delft around the same time.

Whether he was familiar with this painting is unknown, but I like to think he would have admired it, even as we to today.

The Goldfinch is a little triumph of the art of painting.

The Goldfinch, The Mauritshuis


One response to “Eye Candy for Today: Carel Fabritius The Goldfinch

  1. The poor creature is chained to its perch. Is that better than living in a cage, I wonder.