Imitation of a Masterpiece

About six years ago I was visiting my friend Patti in Tucson. She invited me to go to a book estate sale that included a number of art books. I did find several books that interested me including an extensive guide to 17th century Dutch Masters. I am not a big fan of 17th century art, but there were several images in this book that captivated me. One was that of a small bird. At the time I thought to myself, “I should try to paint that bird some day.”

About a year later I took my first oil painting class. Toward the end of the class one of the assignments was to copy a painting done by a Master Painter, to its exact size. Although I like impressionist and post-impressionist work, I immediately thought of that bird.


Self portrait, Carel Fabritius

Since I had never heard of the painter, Carel Fabritius, I had research to do. I was surprised to learn that he was a student of Rembrandt and the mentor to Vermeer. I learned that he lived only a short time. He was killed and most of his work was destroyed when he was 32.

Next, I took a very close look at the painting, The Goldfinch. When I had first looked at it, I didn’t notice the chain. When I saw it again, I was struck how sad and poignant the painting seemed.

I carefully proceeded with my assignment, finished it and got an “A” in the class. I was very proud of myself for copying the painting so well. It was not until a few weeks after the class ended that I became more curious about my “masterpiece” and put it and the original image side-by-side on the computer screen. I was taken aback at how one could so easily tell the difference between the two. It was a moment of great humility for me.

AnnHartMarquis-CarelFabritius-The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch, oil on panel, 9″x13″, 1654, Carel Fabriitus, Homage to Fabritius, oil on panel, 9″x13″, ©2009, Ann Hart Marquis

Nevertheless, my painting hangs in a place of importance in my home. Not so much because I painted it, but because I find it so touching. I can read so many things into this little painting.

The original is in the Mauritshuis Picture Gallery, The Hague Museum, in the Netherlands. Many have speculated on the meaning of the painting. The Dutch consider it to be the most attractive and loved painting of all Dutch 17th century paintings.

What do you think that Fabritius was trying to convey?

12 thoughts on “Imitation of a Masterpiece

  1. Suzanne Snadecki

    What a touching painting. I think yours accentuates the feeling of hopelessness, of being trapped, that the original painting was expressing. For me , any representation of a being that is caged or chained is very painful, but these are very beautiful.

    1. Lynda Ballard

      I’m so glad you emphasized the chain. People need to think about how we treat animals, including this poor finch. When I saw it a couple of years ago, I didn’t notice the chain at first. My feelings changed diametrically once I saw it. I love watching the finches in the tree in our side yard. Have you read Donna Tartt’s new book, The Finch? It’s ding very well. I read her first book and liked it so will prob get to it one of these days. Miss you.

      1. Ann Hart Marquis Post author

        Lynda! Thank you for reading my blog. I know what you mean. Seeing that chain totally changes the whole painting. It made it so poignant. I too love watching all the birds in our yard including our resident roadrunner. And yes, we treat animals like we are not mammals and have no relationship too them. I haven’t read the book, but it is on my list. Miss you too.

  2. Margo

    Dearest Ann,

    I think you made the right decision to leave the chain in the painting. Why would a bird be sitting in such a spot voluntarily? Birds are supposed to be outside and able to use their wings. The fact that this bird is where he is speaks volumes about his existential situation. What is he looking at? The sun is coming in and creating his shadow. It is interesting to me that in your painting the bird is larger, the objects are lower, and the colors are different. Why does that make them less beautiful?

    1. Ann Hart Marquis Post author

      Thank you Margo. Actually the difference in the size, position, and colors are due to the images that I could find on the web. When I painted it, I copied the image from a book exactly in its original dimensions. That was the class assignment. It is interesting for me also to wonder how all the elements that the goldfinch is experiencing effects its well being.

  3. Gary Cherniak

    Really enjoy reading your musings and insights. Very fearless of you to put it all out there. I can so appreciate how precious both finch paintings must be to you, and what a different more subtle appreciation of 17th century. But I’m really glad you posted Fabritius’ self portrait, wow, how spirited, and I am a fan of self portraits, have you done any?

    1. Ann Hart Marquis Post author

      Gary, thank you so much for commenting again and for appreciating the finches. They are both very close to my heart. I really like Fabritius’ self portrait also. He was so talented and he is almost completely unknown. I read that had he lived he probably would have overshadowed Vermeer. I have only done one self portrait. It was for the same oil class where I painted the Goldfinch and the assignment was to do it in the style of Klimpt. Very challenging. We should get a few artists together sometime and share our work. I would love to see your self portraits.


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