A beautiful and mysterious masterpiece from the Golden Age of Dutch painting, which inspired a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by the US publishing sensation Donna Tartt, will make a flying visit to the Scottish National Gallery (SNG) in Edinburgh this autumn.
The Goldfinch, which was painted in 1654 by Carel Fabritius, already enjoyed international renown before the intense interest surrounding Tartt’s 2014 novel of the same name propelled this mesmerising painting into the limelight, bringing it to the attention of Holywood producers, who now hope to adapt Tartt’s book for the big screen.
One of only a handful of works by Fabritius known to exist, The Goldfinch will travel to the SNG from its home in the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, in The Hague, for six weeks only, from 4 November to 18 December this year. The painting has never before been shown in Scotland, and has only been exhibited in the UK on a handful of occasions. When it was last shown outside the Netherlands, at the Frick Collection in New York in 2014, it was seen by a record-breaking 200,000 people (many of whom happily endured long queues in sub-zero temperatures).
Carel Fabritius (1622-1654) is often seen as the link between two giants of Dutch painting: Rembrandt van Rijn (1609-69), in whose workshop he was a star pupil and Johannes Vermeer (1632-75), on whose work he had a considerable influence. An artist of remarkable skill, Fabritius was tragically killed at the age of 32, when a gunpowder store exploded, destroying large parts of the city of Delft and killing hundreds of its residents. It is presumed that much of Fabritius’s work was lost in the explosion, and only around a dozen of his paintings survive. Among these The Goldfinch, which was painted in the year he died, is considered by many to be his masterpiece.
At the time that Fabritius painted this tiny portrait of a goldfinch (the painting measures a mere 33.5 x 22.8 cm), these little birds were popular pets, renowned for their ability to learn tricks, such as pulling up their drinking water in a tiny thimble-sized pail from a hidden glass below. In Dutch paintings of the period, they might be read as a symbol of resourcefulness and dexterity, or perhaps of captive love, but Fabritius’s Goldfinch seems to fall outside such traditions, and its meaning is more elusive. Here there are no props or tricks, just a single bird, painted with extraordinary realism, perched on its feeding-box, its leg attached to a wooden hoop by a slender metal chain.
4 November – 18 December 2016
Scottish National Gallery, The Mound, Edinburgh EH2 2EL