Art Talk: New Yorkers Are Obsessed With This Teeny Tiny Bird

Friday, November 22, 2013

Record crowds are flocking to the Frick Collection on the Upper East Side to see a small painting of a bird created almost 400 years ago.

That's because "The Goldfinch," painted by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius in 1654, inspired Donna Tartt's new novel of the same name. According to the museum, a record 61,000 visitors have come to see the Dutch painting exhibit in which it is featured.

But does this bird deserve that much buzz?  "Definitely," said WNYC’s art critic Deborah Solomon in this interview. "I love that the novel is drawing so much attention to this most worthy, but unassuming and humble, masterpiece."

Solomon explained that The Goldfinch influenced Johannes Vermeer when he was creating a much more famous Dutch painting, "The Girl With a Pearl Earring," which is also now at the Frick. "You have to go see it to believe it," she said.

What do you think? Does the Goldfinch deserve all this attention? Leave a comment below.

"The Girl With a Pearl Earring," by Johannes Vermeer, 1665 (Courtesy of The Frick Collection)



Deborah Solomon

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Comments [20]

al brinker from Long Island, NY

Visiting the Frick last Saturday to see the Vermeers I wondered why the light in his paintings, and that of so many other artists of the same Dutch period, had the light most often coming from the left. I finally figured that it must have something to do with right or left handedness of the artists. Googling it when I got home I was amazed how simple the answer. Painters doing interior portraits and other domestic scenes preferred the northern light from a window. They needed light from the left to highlight their subject while not creating a shadow on the canvas with their hand and arm.

Jan. 17 2014 10:03 PM

I am not a bird expert, but I believe the European variety is not as yellow as the North American. Also, without seeing the actual painting, I don't see how anyone can judge it.

Jan. 05 2014 11:25 AM
Karl Tweardy from Richmond VA

The absence of bright yellow only emphasizes the ordinariness of the creature and, therefore, the chain that imprisons it. It's an apt piece of art that Tartt utilizes as the centerpiece of her extraordinary novel.

Nov. 28 2013 01:15 PM
Carol Markel from Manhattan

It's a boring painting. Goldfinches are much more magical than this representation.
It's all about the yellow.
Where is the yellow?
Just goes to show you how the population is influenced by the masses.

Nov. 24 2013 06:58 PM
maurice from new york city

I would respectfully suggest that the little gold finch painting is rather better , and more precisely rendered than the garish and somewhat sentimental treatment by Vermeer of " Girl with the pearl earring ".

Nov. 24 2013 02:45 PM
D Tremper from Maplewood, NJ

I saw the Goldfinch at the Mauritshuis on my first trip to Europe in '81 among a glut of other art works I scrambled to see over the two and a half month visit. If memory serves correctly, it was here in the US since, and though many years and countless art works since, I recognized it,and was delighted to see it again. It's that memorable.
You've made me interested to read the book.

Nov. 23 2013 12:13 PM
daphne from Los Angeles, CA

To the person who commented that Fabritius was probably not aware of the tension in his painting between the bird (who can fly) and his enchained existence--that seems rather preposterous! Of course he was aware; he rendered that chain with all the clarity, detail, and fineness with which he depicted the noble little bird, and the chain stretches across the whole canvas. Surely the viewer is meant to see it--though perhaps not at first, since it is so tiny. But it is very much there, and very much part and parcel of the life of this goldfinch, as perceived and proffered by the painter to all of us.

Nov. 22 2013 07:41 PM
Gillian Duffy from Ireland

I was lucky enough to see this little masterpiece at a tiny exhibition of three Dutch Masters at the National Gallery of Ireland a few years ago. I wandered in on a weekday afternoon and had the room to myself. Between the Vermeer and the de Hooch perched this luminous little goldfinch. Of course I didn't realise at the time that Donna Tartt was so enthralled by this painting, but I completely understand why, as I have often remembered it, it has stayed with me more than the other works. It really is something special, so beautiful in its simplicity.

Nov. 22 2013 02:23 PM
Carol from Highland Park, NJ

The unassuming, tiny Frabitius painting is such a profound part of Donna Tartt's beautiful, multi-leveled novel that I understand why readers would want to gaze at the original. So much about pain and love and art to experience and ponder.

Nov. 22 2013 10:23 AM
Deborah Solomon from WNYC

Hey everyone, Thanks for your smart comments.
To Suzy Patil, and Paul Hicks-- your ornithological observations are much appreciated.
To Jim, who laments the absence of Vermeer in my report, listen again! Vermeer is there!


Nov. 22 2013 10:08 AM
marja samsom

music& art:
timeless...cant get better combo to
experience life

Nov. 22 2013 09:46 AM
Suzy Patil from NJ

On the radio, I heard one of the interviewers say that she was not that impressed with the painting, because the painted bird looked dull, and not bright yellow. The bird I think is a female Goldfinch, they have dull plumage compared to the very bright yellow of the male bird. In my opinion, the painter did the right thing, a very bright yellow bird, would have looked garish, given the background. Now I will go look for the book, it's tickled my curiosity.

Nov. 22 2013 09:25 AM
Mary Reinertsen from NYC

This small quiet painting certainly makes an impression but for me there is a tension between a beautifully wrought painting and the bird tethered to a small box. I doubt the artist would have recognized that bitter aspect to his painting.
I would like to respond to a comment from a lady who said she was disappointed by the goldfinch's lack of brightness. European goldfinches look exactly like this. We actually had one in Central Park last winter. An escapee, no doubt.

Nov. 22 2013 09:24 AM
Jim from Manhattan

What a disappointing report. The show at the Frick is extraordinary and there are huge crowds but if you took an actually survey of those visiting and asked what single work in the show drew them, I'm certain it wouldn't have been "The Goldfinch," but the Vermeer, an artist who's name, astonishingly, fails to appear at all in the report. Your critic was clearly enamored of this important work, but that opinion should not lead to such a misleading and manipulative report.

Nov. 22 2013 09:18 AM
Paul Hicks from Rye, NY

The reason this Goldfinch is not "gold" like a male American Goldfinch in mating plumage is that it is a European Goldfinch.

Nov. 22 2013 09:13 AM
Willow from NYC

Ironic that I click on the image on the main page, hoping to see a bigger image, and it's smaller here (though you can click on the image to get a bigger version), and The Girl With a Pearl Earring is so much larger. The art critic on the radio program was just lamenting how the latter painting has overshadowed the former.. so it's a strange editorial choice to display a much a bigger image. Plus, the article is about The Goldfinch and it's much more powerful when seen larger and you can see the bird's eye looking at you. Spectacular.

Nov. 22 2013 09:10 AM
Ric Kallaher from Montauk

While "The Girl with . . . " has always been one of my favorites among many of the Dutch masters, I'm amazed that this is my introduction to both Fabritius and "The Goldfinch". It's quite stunning in its simplicity and, yes, one can see the connection from Rembrandt to Vermeer that you point out -- the elevation of the seemingly mundane and everyday to that which is worth remembering. What I find of particular interest is what you don't really see at first: the small chain that keeps the bird, though uncaged, a prisoner.

Nov. 22 2013 08:58 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

The painting is great. Not only do we look at the bird; the bird looks at us, as well. As prosaic as it may make me appear, I still like representational art. In the millennia before cameras existed, that's how records were kept of what existed, and only the most skillful painters could accurately depict life at the time.

Nov. 22 2013 08:57 AM
Susan Goldberg

The book is a masterpiece of fiction and the "little" painting, which figures heavily in the plot, is, as Ms. Tartt said at a reading I attended, " the rarest if the rare."

Nov. 22 2013 08:36 AM
PBSweeney from Pound Ridge, NY

Anything that gets people into the Frick or looking at more art, is a GREAT thing. Besides, it really is a wonderful little painting and it's good to take a break from all the noise of contemporary life that clamors for our attention.

Nov. 22 2013 08:15 AM

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