Who’s A Pretty Boy? The Goldfinch

Currently on show in the National Gallery in Edinburgh is a small painting of a bird by the well regarded and enigmatic artist, Carel Fabritius (1622-1654). It is on loan from the Mauritshuis Gallery in The Hague and I popped in to see it this week.

Beautifully presented in an area of the ground floor, it is a highly naturalistic image of a Goldfinch with its instantly recognisable colourful plumage. The Goldfinch was a popular pet at the time this was painted in 1654, primarily because of their colouring and delightful songs, but also because they could perform simple tricks – one of which was to draw water from a bowl using a tiny bucket. The Goldfinch can be found in Britain all year around although many birds migrate during the winter, some as far as Spain. I found the image a little sad, with the bird chained to its perch, although an alternative reading is that the chain belongs to the bucket with which the small bird will perform his tricks. I hope that is true!

Both Fabritius and his brother became painters and he went on to study under Rembrandt, becoming one of his most famous pupils He moved to work in Delft in the early 1650s but his life was unfortunately cut short. He was tragically killed, at the age of 32, when a gunpowder arsenal in Delft exploded, killing hundreds of the City’s residents including Fabritius and many of his paintings. Today there are estimated to be only a dozen of his works remaining thus it is very rare to see them.

Don’t miss this beautiful tiny image which is free to view. If you are shopping at the Edinburgh Christmas markets pop into the Gallery and admire the beauty of this perfectly formed painting from an artist with so much promise. Fabritius continues to inspire artists today and the American author Donna Tartt won the Pullitzer Prize in 2014 for her novel The Goldfinch, which features this painting.

It’s definitely worth ten minutes of your time so escape the crowds and marvel at the talent of a great artist.