The little bird stands perched on a stand, looking directly at you. A gold chain, barely perceptible, keeps the defiant bird from flying away. Well, that and the fact that the bird is actually a painting.
At 9 by 13 inches, Carole Fabritius’s oil painting, The Goldfinch, is only just a bit bigger than a piece of printer paper. Yet it’s inspired crowds of 60,000 people, a 738-blockbuster novel by Donna Tartt, and a movie coming out on September 13. Tartt’s 2013 novel The Goldfinch sends the painting – which is completely real – on an adventure out of a museum.
The Goldfinch begins on the day that teenager Theo Decker (played by Oakes Fegley and Ansel Elgort in the film) loses everything: His mother dies in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After surviving the attack, Theo walks out of the wreckage carrying her favorite painting, The Goldfinch, a priceless work of art.
Here’s what you need to know about the actual painting — including where you can see it now.
Who was Carel Fabritius?
Born in 1622 in the Dutch Republic, Carel Fabritius was an acclaimed painter. A pupil of Rembrandt, Fabritius developed a style that was independent of his teacher’s. Essentially, he had a “thing” (portraits painted against lit backgrounds) and the “thing” was working for him. Hear it from a journal from 1680: “No one has yet equaled him.”
How did Carel Fabritius die?
Fabritius died in a tragedy that has parallels to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. On October 12, 1654, a gunpowder factory next to Fabritius’ apartment in Delft exploded. In the event now known as the Delft Thunderclap, 90,000 pounds of gunpowder went off in five blasts. Fabritius was killed, along with at least 100 others. The death toll would have been much higher, had much of Delft’s population not been at a market and fair. The explosion also destroyed a quarter of the city. Fabritius was 32 at the time of his death.
The Goldfinch, painted in the year of his death, was one of only about 12 of his paintings to have survived the tragic explosion. In the universe of Tartt’s epic novel, the painting endured yet another explosion in the 21st century, too.
Why did Donna Tartt choose The Goldfinch for her book?
Oddly, Tartt’s reasoning had nothing to do with the Delft Thunderclap. In fact, when she chose to base her book around The Goldfinch, Tartt didn’t even know about the gunpowder factory tragedy. Tartt told The Telegraph she was searching for a painting ‘that would appeal to a child” and would be small enough to carry. She immediately connected with The Goldfinch.
“The the first time I saw it, I connected very strongly with it,” Tartt said. “This little bird, so brave and so dignified, and then you see that terrible little chain…
Eerily, there was another strange coincidence between the tragedy and her book. At the time of Fabritius’ death, he was painting the portrait of a church deacon named Simon Decker — a man who shared the last name of her main character. Tartt likened the coincidence an act of God.
“It all fit together in ways I could never have imagined. When coincidences like that start happening you know the muses are at your side,” Tartt said. Fittingly, The Goldfinch (the book) is full of such coincidences.
Was The Goldfinch ever hung in the Metropolitan Museum of Art?
No. Currently, The Goldfinch resides at the Mauritshuis in the Hague, Netherlands. From 2013 to 2014, the Dutch Golden age painting went on a world tour. When it arrived in the Frick Collection in New York in 2014, 61,000 people visited.
Was The Goldfinch ever stolen?
Nope. Tartt was inspired to write the book in 2000, after Islamic fundamentalists destroyed precious sixth-century Buddhist carvings at Bamiyan in Afghanistan.
Was the real Goldfinch in the movie?
Good question! Nope. The replica in the film was 3-D printed.