The Goldfinch

Carel Fabritius, 1654
Mauritshuis, The Hague

This modest painting has become one of the most beloved of all Dutch works of art. Its seeming informality and the intimacy of the depiction of its isolated subject were unique in its time. Remarkably, the bird is not set in either a hunting still life or in an explicitly allegorical context. The goldfinch is chained to a wooden perch in its feedbox. In Dutch, the bird bears the nickname puttertje, a reference to its ability to draw its water in a tiny bucket from a receptacle placed below. The original purpose of this painting has been the subject of much unresolved speculation. The bird is seen from below, implying a high placement, and set against a backdrop of a white wall. The enduring charm of The Goldfinch rests in its directness and simplicity of subject, its vibrant touches of bright color, broad brushstrokes and softly rendered shadows, evoking a moment of calm in an active, stressful world.

Hilliard T. Goldfarb, Senior Curator, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, Canada

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