A while ago I was in New York City and I visited, eagerly, the Frick Gallery to see an exhibition of paintings from the Mauritshuis which is making its way around the world: Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis. Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring was on view.
However, as interesting as Girl was – I was amused to learn that, during a cleaning, a supposed highlight on the pearl turned out to be a stray flake of something and not Vermeer’s intention at all – I was even more interested in Carel Fabritius’ The Goldfinch.
You know of my interest in what I call “Christological goldfinches” in Italian painting.
I saw today at The History Blog an entry about the Frick exhibit and the Girl and the Goldfinch.
There I learned of a novel which features The Goldfinch, namely, by Donna Tartt.
Apparently people are flying and flocking like finches to see the fine feathered feature in numbers as great as those who come to view the Girl with the pearl. They do so, it seems, from their interest in the books. You may also know about the novel and the movie about the Girl.
Here is something from the blog entry:
The Goldfinch‘s charm has been more than evident to curators and fans of the Dutch Golden Age for centuries, of course. That’s why it’s included in what is basically a greatest hits exhibition. The petite piece, about the size of a piece of A4 paper, is a trompe l’oeil, a painting that creates the deliberate illusion of reality. A goldfinch stands on a feedbox, a delicate chain tethering him to the spot, against a whitewashed wall with crumbling bits of plaster. The shadows cast by the box are at a fairly steep upward angle and we see the box’s semicircular perches from below, suggesting Fabritius planned the piece for display relatively high on a wall.
Fabritius’ confident, smooth brushstrokes create an incredibly lifelike bird despite the lack of precision photorealistic detail. He learned from the best, studying under no less of a master than Rembrandt in the early 1640s in Amsterdam. You can see Rembrandt’s influence in the splash of yellow in the bird’s wing. Fabritius laid the yellow on thick and then scratched it while it was still wet using the butt of his brush. The scratch exposed the underlying layer of black. This is a technique Rembrandt taught him.
The overall look of the painting, however, is a departure from Fabritius’ early work in Amsterdam. Fabritius was 28 years old when he moved to Delft in 1650 and over time, he moved on from Rembrandt’s dark palette and atmospheric lighting to the brighter scenes and homier subjects of the Delft school of artists. Johannes Vermeer was influenced by this approach (he may have even been an actual student of Carel Fabritius, but the evidence for this is very thin).
Unfortunately Fabritius’ great artistry was severed shortly after he painted The Goldfinch. On October 12, 1654, a gunpowder magazine in Delft exploded, destroying a quarter of the city. Fabritius was killed at the age of 32. His studio was reduced to rumble and most of his paintings were lost. Only a dozen or so of his paintings are known to survive today. It’s possible that The Goldfinch was a witness to this tragedy. When the Mauritshuis restored it in 2003, they found microscopic damage to the surface. It may have been rescued from the rubble.
The Goldfinch, Girl with a Pearl Earring and the rest of the treasures will be on display at the Frick through January 19th, so you have no time to lose if you want to see the exhibition before it leaves the country. There is one more international stop of the tour in the Palazzo Fava in Bologna from February 8th until May 25th, and then the group returns to The Hague in time where they will be installed in the newly renovated Mauritshuis in time for its grand re-opening on June 27th.
I admit that my last trip to NYC was timed partly with this exhibit in mind. I am a fan of Vermeer and of other Dutch masters. The Frick has 3 Vermeer and the Met 5. With the arrival of the Girl with the pearl, there was a serious concentration of Vermeer in NYC. Also on display was a mighty find vanitas painting by one of my faves, Pieter Claesz.