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Dutch Painting

The Goldfinch

Carel Fabritius
Oil on panel, 33 x 32 cm.
Mauritshuis, The Hague

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Carel Fabritius, The Goldfinch

Carel Pietersz. FABRITIUS
Midden Beemster 1622-Delft 1654

Carel Fabritius was a great painter who died young in the explosion of the powder magazine in Delft in 1654 and whose pictures are too rare to perpetuate his reputation. He became a pupil of Rembrandt at an early age and it could be argued that he was the most original painter Rembrandt ever had in his studio. Fabritius appreciated Rembrandt's analytical approach to human character and interpreted it in his own quiet way instead of just imitating the outward bravado of brushwork.

Fabritius has also occupied a peculiar position in the context of the painting style in Delft in the 1650s. This is caused by the fact that the rediscoverer of Vermeer, Thoré-Bürger, who owned Fabritius's Goldfinch, saw Fabritius as a link between Rembrandt and Vermeer. This has led most subsequent writers to see Fabritius as a forerunner of Vermeer and not as a painter in his own right. Indeed, Fabritius was already dead when Vermeer signed and dated his first pictures and they are all more or less derived from Utrecht artists like Hendrick ter Brugghen rather than Fabritius.

Considering how little survives there is a great variety of subject matter and approach in Fabritius's painting. It ranges from the tiny perspective View of Delft the National Gallery, London, to the sleeping sentry or soldier seen against a perfectly painted black wall in the museum at Schwerin. He also painted a small group of heads of old men (in Groningen, Liverpool and The Hague) which almost anticipate Rembrandt's last manner when he also painted so many heads of old men.

Fabritius's palette was richer and softer than that of Vermeer. He preferred very gentle tonal contrasts with no one colour dominating in the way that Vermeer so often used blue or yellow. The details of Fabritius's life are confusing; like his brother Barent he seems to have been in Amsterdam often while continuing to live in Midden Beemster. He was certainly in Delft by 1651 and became a member of the guild there in the following year. His death in the explosion two years later robbed the town of Delft and the whole of Dutch art of one of its greatest painters.

Christopher Wright, The Dutch Painters: 100 Seventeenth Century Masters, London, 1978

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