A Charm of Goldfinches
17 Jan 2023

The Goldfinch, a 17th century painting by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius, is the inspiration for an exciting exhibition opening this week at Shrewsbury’s Gateway, writes Frankie Rickford

The Goldfinch, painted by Dutch Golden Age artist Carel Fabritius, was made more famous by Donna Tartt’s novel of the same name in which a teenage boy steals the painting from a gallery following a massive explosion. Fabritius himself was killed, aged just 32, by a huge explosion in his home city of Delft when a magazine of gunpowder blew up.

His beautiful, trompe-l'oeil painting is the inspiration for the touring exhibition 'A Charm of Goldfinches' which opens this week (January 20th) at Shrewsbury's Gateway Gallery in Chester, Street.

New works by ten local artists will join 17 other works in the exhibition curated by Sheffield artist and art historian Bryan Eccleshall. All are versions of Fabritius' famous goldfinch painting, which is held in the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague.

The exhibition was first shown at the Gage Gallery in Sheffield in 2022 featuring around 15 artists, a selection of established prize-winning artists and emerging artists. These are now joined by a group of artists from Shropshire and the West Midlands and with poetry by Kate Innes.

Bryan says: “When I floated the idea of this exhibition, we were coming out of lockdowns during which many people took comfort and delight in the birds that visited their gardens. In the original painting the bird is tethered by a delicate chain and many of the submissions engage with ideas of freedom and captivity.

"Motivation for the exhibition is related to the trauma of the pandemic, and with the pleasure and nourishment many people have gained from returning to domestic-sized painting and drawing, as well as the joy of watching nature."

Artist Jamila Walker
Goldfinch by artist Jamila Walker

This work by Oswestry artist Jamila Walker (pictured left, by James Warman Photography) expresses her growing interest in the birds in her own garden during the pandemic, and also her vivid memories of waiting, queuing and the struggle to maintain connections. 

Jamila said: “I was delighted to be asked to be part of this exhibition. I love drawing birds, and I’ve always been jealous that they can fly.  My goldfinches are queuing off the page, because there was so much waiting and queuing during the pandemic. And now, after the pandemic, we are having to learn to live together again.”

Another Shrewsbury artist taking part in the exhibition is Linda Edwards, who will be contributing her watercolour and 24ct gold leaf on paper work 'Hejira'. She said: "I was very pleased to be invited! I think its a lovely idea and I’m looking forward to seeing all the other paintings.

"I am imagining the goldfinch in Fabritius’ painting escaping its chain and flying through the arched window nearby to join the wild goldfinch in freedom in the tree outside. The patterning in the background represents the interior of the Dutch house in the 17th Century and the rich fabrics that might have been found therein."

Pictured below: Some of the artists featured in 'A Charm of Goldfinches' exhibition, including (in the gallery): Amanda Hillier, Andrew Howe, Carol Bowsher, Helen Nodding and Linda Edwards. (Below) Jancis Vaughan, Matt Sewell and Lucy Farrington.

Goldfinches by Jancis Vaughan
Goldfinches by Matt Sewell

The full list of artists featured in the Shrewsbury exhibition: Amanda Hillier, Andrew Howe, Andy Cropper, Bryan Eccleshall, Carol Bowsher, Cyd Whelan, Christine Gallagher, David Mcguire, Georgia Peskett, Hayley Lock, Helen Nodding, Hondartza Fraga, Jamila Walker, Jancis Vaughan, Jennifer Wallace, Jereme Crow, Katya Robin, Linda Edwards, Lucy Farrington, Matt Sewell, Maria Champion-Forster, Paola Allessandri-Gray, Paul Evans, Sean Williams, Sharon Kivland and Stephen Lowen. 

  • A Charm of Goldfinches is at The Gateway Gallery, Chester Street, Shrewsbury, SY2 1NB from January 20th to February 27th from 9am to 4.30pm - Free entry.
Goldfinches by Lucy Farrington