Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ helps to draw big crowds to a smaller NY museum

‘The Goldfinch,’ the 1654 painting by Carel Fabritius, appears on the cover of Donna Tartt’s new novel.

A very small painting of roughly 9 x 13 inches has been drawing crowds to the Frick Collection in New York. The painting everyone wants to see? Carel Fabritius’s 1654 “The Goldfinch,” the portrait of a little European songbird perched on its feed box. The painting appears on the cover of Donna Tartt’s new novel of the same name. In the book, 13-year-old protagonist Theo Decker steals “The Goldfinch” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art after falling victim to a terrorist bomb attack inside the museum.

The painting is part of the traveling exhibition "Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis" in The Hague. The show opened on October 22, 2013, the same day the novel was released, but neither the author nor the museum knew about the overlap beforehand. The exhibition will close on January 19.

Initially, the museum had predicted that the highlight of the exhibition was going to be Johannes Vermeer’s “The Girl with a Pearl Earring,” which has been made famous by a book of its own. Art critic Deborah Solomon told WNYC that besides inspiring Tartt, Fabritius’s “The Goldfinch” also inspired Vermeer when he was painting his masterpiece. "I love that the novel is drawing so much attention to this most worthy, but unassuming and humble, masterpiece," Solomon said.

Theo Decker says about Fabritius’s “The Goldfinch,” “When I looked at the painting I felt the same convergence on a single point: a glancing sun-struck instance that existed now and forever. Only occasionally did I notice the chain on the finch's ankle, or think what a cruel life for a little living creature – fluttering briefly, forced always to land in the same hopeless place.”

The museum expects the show to have more than 200,000 visitors. It's an impressive turnout at a museum where the annual attendance normally falls somewhere between 275,000 to 300,000.  

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