Museums USA

Frick’s finch lays golden egg

The surprise star of a New York loan show of Dutch Old Masters has given a boost to the museum’s attendance and membership

Carel Fabritius, The Goldfinch, 1654. Photo: Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague

A little bird has been drawing big crowds to the Frick Collection in New York. The surprise star of the exhibition “Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritschuis” (through 19 January) is The Goldfinch, 1654, by Carel Fabritius. Fans of Donna Tartt’s new best-selling novel of the same name, which features the petite painting of a yellow bird on its cover, have flocked to the museum. In the book, a young boy steals The Goldfinch from the Metropolitan Museum of Art after a bomb detonates inside the museum.

While the Frick expected crowds for Jan Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring, 1665—another painting that is the subject of a best-selling novel—it did not anticipate the popularity of The Goldfinch. Although the book was published on the same day as the show’s opening, neither the museum nor the author knew about the overlap in advance. Tartt decided to write about the painting, which rarely travels outside the Hague, more than 20 years ago on a trip to Amsterdam. “It was very moving to me in a weird way,” Tartt told The New York Times of the Frick’s serendipitous show. The opening “wasn’t the approximate date. It was the exact date [of publication].”

The Frick is now selling 800 Goldfinch postcards for every 1,000 postcards of Girl With a Pearl Earring. “There is a feeling among us that people are nearly equally interested in both,” says a Frick spokeswoman.

With The Goldfinch’s help, the exhibition has become the best attended in Frick history. The museum expects the show to exceed 200,000 visitors, more than a third of its typical annual attendance of 275,000 to 300,000. Membership to the museum (which costs between $25 and $600) has also more than doubled during the exhibition’s three-month run, growing from 5,000 to 12,000. Around 100 people are joining daily, according to the spokeswoman, compared to an average of three new members per day during a typical fall season.

The spokeswoman, however, declined to comment on whether the museum had taken any additional security measures to protect The Goldfinch from readers who might want to emulate Tartt’s protagonist and steal the painting for themselves.

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Comments

26 Mar 14
14:8 CET

WES CHRISTENSEN, LOS ANGELES

To characterize Theo's actions as a theft, during the explosion at the Met that begins Donna Tartt's novel "The Goldfinch," betrays a simple misreading of the book. Theo escapes a tragedy that kills his mother, and in the process of getting out alive, he also rescues the Fabritius painting, responding to the dying request of another museum patron. Of course, soon enough, the 13 year old boy realizes the value of the painting as well as the irony of its second escape from mayhem (the first being the 1654 explosion that killed the painter and destroyed his studio together with its contents). It is the novel that is the treasure here, and like the little Goldfinch, it deserves the credit for the enormous outpouring of the Frick's attendance. To suggest that the painting might provoke one of the writer's many fans to "emulate Tartt's protagonist and steal the painting for themselves" reveals a fundamental misreading of this fine book.

20 Jan 14
19:0 CET

JENNE, MONTANS FRANCE

Its a beauté, a moment of our Dutch sentiment, it speaks for it self.

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