Carel Fabritius: a talented life cut short

The name of Carel Fabritius is little known today, but he is an excellent example of an artist who might have been one of the greats had he had a longer life.

He was born in 1622 in Amsterdam and became a pupil of Rembrandt. He is widely regarded as having been his master’s best pupil, basing his style on Rembrandt’s in some respects but developing his own techniques.

Like Rembrandt, he combined the use of thick impasto paint with thin glazes, but he preferred cool colours to Rembrandt’s deep reds and browns. Rembrandt was renowned for placing lit subjects against a dark background, whereas Fabritius preferred the opposite approach of silhouetting a dark subject against a light background.

He painted portraits, still lifes and scenes of everyday life. However, only ten works have survived that are known to have been by him, and the reason for this is particularly tragic.

Fabritius had set up his studio in the Dutch town of Delft. In 1654 there was a huge gunpowder explosion near his studio which resulted in his death, aged 32, and the destruction of much of his work. Had Carel Fabritius not been in the wrong place at the wrong time, there is no knowing what he might have achieved.


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