Here's the True Story Behind the Painting in 'The Goldfinch'


Sep. 12 2019, Updated 5:33 p.m. ET

is the painting in the goldfinch real
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

Donna Tartt's bestseller The Goldfinch is now a movie, and if you're not familiar with the plot of the book, it begins with a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, during which our protagonist Theo Decker's mom is killed.

Article continues below advertisement

In the aftermath of the explosion, Theo encounters an old man who gives him a ring along with an enigmatic message before dying. Confused and in shock, Theo steals the painting The Goldfinch, which he and his mother were observing, in a panic before his escape.

But is the painting in The Goldfinch real? And what happens to it in the movie? Keep reading.

Article continues below advertisement

The Goldfinch is actually a real painting.

Throughout the novel and the movie, The Goldfinch painting plays a crucial role. It serves as Theo's only connection to his mother, then leads him into the seedy underbelly of art dealers and forgeries.

But the story of the actual painting of The Goldfinch is almost as dramatic as the movie, and both share an explosion in common. The original work is a small oil painting by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius of a chained European goldfinch on top of its feeder.

Article continues below advertisement

Although much of the palette consists of muted tones, there are little swatches of gold that draw a viewer's attention. And while the painting — which was one of only three paintings Fabritius made in 1654, the year he died — is a departure from the style of his master, Rembrandt, it closely resembles the style of Fabritius' supposed pupil Vermeer (The Girl with the Pearl Earring).

Today, the painting sits in the Mauritshuis in The Hague, where it is currently on view. But now back to that explosion that the book, movie, and this painting have in common.

What happened to The Goldfinch painting in the movie?

While Theo grabbed The Goldfinch in the aftermath of the Metropolitan Museum's explosion, its artist Fabritius was actually killed in an explosion the same year he painted it.

Article continues below advertisement
is the painting in the goldfinch real
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

At only 32 years of age, Fabritius was killed "when a magazine containing at least 90,000 pounds of gunpowder blew up in the heart of Delft," where the artist lived, per The Guardian. "It was a meaningless disaster. Someone was careless with a match."

Article continues below advertisement

While there's no direct correlation between Fabritius' random and untimely death, it certainly parallels the opening of the movie. And boy, does that painting play a crucial role in the unfolding of the plot. 

Without revealing too many spoilers, we'll get to see The Goldfinch travel to the house of Theo's classmate, Andy, who serves as a surrogate family to him.

Then, when his deadbeat alcoholic father comes to whisk him away from Andy's family and off to Las Vegas, he makes sure to take the painting there, too. There, he meets a friend, Boris, to whom he confides that he has stolen the painting.

Article continues below advertisement

Years later, he's working at the old man who gave him the ring at the Met's partner's antique shop, and learns that his friend Boris actually stole The Goldfinch when they were in high school in Vegas. Together, they devise a plan to retrieve the painting, and this wild goose chase is the plot of the last quarter of the movie.

Don't miss the chance to see this beautiful painting and learn about all of the high-jinx it is at the center of when The Goldfinch comes to a theater near you on Sept. 13.

More from Distractify

Latest Entertainment News and Updates

    Opt-out of personalized ads

    © Copyright 2024 Distractify. Distractify is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. People may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.