Saturday 22 August 2015

The Goldfinch, Carel Fabritius

'And in this staunch little portrait, it's hard not to see the human in the finch. Dignified, vulnerable... But who knows what Fabritius intended? There's not enough of his work left to even make a guess. The bird looks out at us. It's not idealised or humanised. It's very much a bird. Watchful, resigned. There's no moral or story. There's no resolution. There's only a double abyss: between painter and imprisoned bird; between the record he left of the bird and our experience of it, centuries later'. Donna Tart, The Goldfinch


The Goldfinch, by Carel Fabritiius, 1654, at the Maurithuis
A goldfinch is sitting on its feeder, chained by its foot. A simple, but totally compelling painting. One of the few works we know by Fabritius. He was killed in a massive gunpowder explosion that wrecked 17th century Delft. When the painter perished, so did most of his art, but from the few of his remaining works we know that he promised to match Vermeer and Rembrandt.

If you look closely The Goldfinch,  it's just a collection of brushstrokes - you can almost count each one. If you step back however, the paint becomes a living thing. It's a master class in technique, an expert manipulation of paint to suggest form and texture.  Fabritius depicted the wing in thick yellow paint, which he scratched with the handle of his brush.                                                               

The painting is tiny. The bird in the painting is actual size. Seeing the painting hung high on the wall, the size of the bird and the angle of its two perches could easily persuade your eye that you are seeing a real goldfinch. It's an elaborate trompe l'oeil trick, part of the painting's spell.
Theo, the main character in Donna Tart's novel, comes to this conclusion at the end of the novel: 
'I've come to believe that there's no truth beyond illusion. Because, between 'reality' on the one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there's a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic'.
It's that middle zone that the Goldfinch occupies.


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