13 October, 2005


Meisje met de parel
Johannes Vermeer ca. 1665

Het puttertje
Carel Fabritius 1654

Frederik J. Duparc, "Carel Fabritius (1622-1654) His Life and Work" in Carel Fabritius 1622-1654, Zwolle, 2004, pp. 58-60

In 1654 Fabritius...painted the famous Goldfinch, now in the Mauritshuis. Like the View in Delft, it occupies a unique place in Dutch painting and is without precedent. The goldfinch, or European goldfinch (carduelis carduelis), is perched on a rail in front of its feeding-box, the backdrop to which is a whitewashed wall. In centuries past, the goldfinch was a popular pet that owed its Dutch nickname ('puttertje') to its adroitness in performing such tasks as drawing water ('putten') from a bowl using a thimble-sized bucket on a chain. With loving attenion, Fabritius rendered the little bird chained to its feeding-box. In contrast to such comemporaries as Jan Baptist Weenix (1621-1659/61) and Cornelis Lelienbergh (c. 16251 30-after 1676) both of whom pained still lifes with dead birds also seen against a light wall, Fabritius did not lose himself in details. Here, more than ever, he proves that what he cared about was expressing his perception of the subject, not producing a depiction utterly true to life. Using relatively broad brushstrokes and occasionally bright colours, he produced a subtle rendering of a European goldf├Čnch, caught in bright light. If one views the panel from a slight distance, the soft shadows cast by the little bird on both its feeding- box and the light wall, the shadows cast by the feeding-box on the wall, as well as the reflections of light on the two curved wooden rails, all help to create the convincing illusion that one is in fact observing a goldf├Čnch perched by its feeding-box.

This seeming three-dimensionality places the small panel in the category of trompe-l'oeil depictions. Even so, it is in a class by itself, precisely because the illusions created by most other examples of this genre depend on an elaboration of detail carried almost to extremes.

Over the years, many theories have been developed to explain the painting's original purpose, usually involving much speculation as to its trompe- l'oeil effect. It has been suggested, for example, that the fairly thick panel was not originally framed as a picture but served instead as the door of a wall-cupboard. No matter what its originaI function, Fabritius's
Goldfinch is an unforgettabie masterpiece, precisely because of the simplicity and clarity of its composition.

Gezicht op Haarlem met bleekvelden
Jacob van Ruisdael
ca. 1670-1675

The girl is exquisite, as is the bird, two of the most beautiful paintings I have seen here. The artist, Fabritius, was killed when a nearby amunition dump exploded and demolished his studio. A great loss if this painting is any indication.

I've always admired Ruisdael's skies. Here linen is bleaching in the fields near Haarlem. This is an archetypal dutch landscape. It still looks just like this.

at the Mauritshuis, Den Haag.

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