Clipped wings: the tragic true story of The Goldfinch

It was made famous by Donna Tartt’s novel, but the truth about its artist, Carel Fabritius, is stranger than fiction

It’s just a painting of a chained bird on its perch, but The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius has become a pop icon. When I last saw it at the Mauritshuis in The Hague it was singled out from other paintings, roped off, almost like the Mona Lisa. Now it is to be exhibited at the Scottish National Gallery. Will the crowds there from 4 November match the 200,000 people who queued to see it at the Frick Collection in New York in 2014?

The popularity of this 17th-century Dutch painting has been hugely enhanced by Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch, whose narrator steals it when he is 13 years old. Yet the true story of The Goldfinch and the man who painted it is stranger than fiction.

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