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Mauritshuis favourite The Goldfinch in Edinburgh

Rare masterpiece by Carel Fabritius on temporary loan to the Scottish National Gallery

From 4 November through 18 December 2016, one of the most famous masterpieces in the collection of the Mauritshuis, The Goldfinch, will be shown in Scotland for the first time. The painting will feature in a special presentation at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. The painting will return to the Mauritshuis on time for Christmas.

‘It’s always special to see works from the Mauritshuis in the context of a different collection’, says Mauritshuis Director Emilie Gordenker. ‘We have worked together often with the National Galleries of Scotland, as we did in 2014 when we showed Titian’s Venus Rising from the Sea (The Birth of Venus) from their collection in our Prince William V Gallery.’

The Goldfinch is one of the rare works by Carel Fabritius to have survived. The painting is a touching portrait of a little bird sitting on its feeder, attached by way of a chain to its claw, standing against a white plastered wall. The goldfinch is characterised by red markings on its head and the bright yellow stripe on its black wing. Goldfinches, also known in Dutch as ‘ water drawers’ (putters), were often kept as pets in the seventeenth century. They owe their nickname to the fact that they could be taught to draw water from a bowl with a bucket, the size of a thimble. Fabritius’s exceptional depiction was probably intended as a trompe l’oeil, an optical illusion. It is possible that the painting was meant to be hung high up on a wall, as the goldfinch is depicted as seen from below. At first sight it must have looked like a real little bird.

Carel Fabritius, Rembrandt’s most talented pupil

On 12 October 1654, an explosion at the gunpowder storage in Delft reduced much of the city to ashes. But the explosion also had major consequences for Dutch art, as the disaster claimed the life of one of the most talented artists of the age, Carel Fabritius. His studio, situated just a stone’s throw away from the gunpowder store, was wiped out by the blast.
Puttertje Mauritshuis

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Carel Fabritius (1622-1654), The Goldfinch, 1654. Collection Mauritshuis, The Hague

This explains why only a small number of his paintings have survived. The quality and the originality of the surviving works show Fabritius to have been one of the great masters of the Dutch Golden Age. His phenomenally deft brushwork made of him Rembrandt’s most talented pupil, while his subtle renditions of light and vivid palette were to influence Johannes Vermeer.

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Natalie Bos
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