My Favourite Painting: Sir Andrew Gregory

Sir Andrew Gregory, head of the SSAFA, chooses Fabritius's famed painting, The Goldfinch.

Sir Andrew Gregory on The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius

‘The first impression is of a beautiful bird with a magnificent song that traditionally migrates south and whose return marks the arrival of warmer weather. And then you see the very fine chain, tethering this creature and removing its liberty.

‘It highlights the importance of protecting what we might take for granted, especially our freedoms. Both during my time in the British Army and now in SSAFA, this delicate, exquisite painting brings to life my values.’

Lieutenant-General Sir Andrew Gregory KBE CB DL has been CEO of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, since 2016 and is also master gunner, St James’s Park, Royal Regiment of Artillery.

John McEwen comments on The Goldfinch

Bestselling novels based on The Goldfinch and Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring have made these two paintings among the most famous in the world. In large measure, this is due to Théophile Thoré, pseudonym Willem Bürger (1807–69), scholar, collector, art agent and writer, who was responsible for rediscovering Vermeer and his apparent inspiration, Carel Pietersz, known as Fabritius (the carpenter). Today, Fabritius, a pupil of Rembrandt, is the vital link between the two most revered painters of Dutch art’s golden age.

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Fabritius, son of a painter, died when much of Delft was destroyed by the explosion of a gunpowder store. The Goldfinch was painted that fatal year. In 1859, Burger (Thoré) wrote: ‘I have never heard mention in Holland of the paintings of Carel Fabritius, and I have only ever seen one, a small modest piece, but fine and indeed precious because of the signature of the man to whom Jan van der Meer [Vermeer] of Delft attached himself… It is a simple studio… study, after nature, of a goldfinch perched on his box, hung up on a pale wall, which recalls the clear pale backgrounds [unlike Rembrandt’s dark ones] that van der Meer seems to have liked. It is painted with beautiful touches, very strong in accent and luminous in colour.’

Thore later owned the painting. Viewed from a distance, The Goldfinch is suitably exquisite, close up, its jumble of ‘touches’ and strokes appear the masterly product of minutes. Before the novels, it used to hang on a landing; now, it and the Vermeer share what must, in consequence, be one of the most famous rooms in the world.

This is John McEwen’s last contribution to the Favourite Painting page after 13 years