The girl, the bird, the RV and me

A recent road trip with my husband combined the sublime and the ridiculous. We started out at The Frick Collection in New York getting intimate with the Girl and the Goldfinch, and 24 hours later, were sitting in a 2014 Airstream Classic at the Boston RV & Camping Expo discussing the merits of a couch (yes) vs. bunk beds (no).

Scot had just finished Donna Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch.

Like many other readers, it turns out, he was determined to see the famous Carel Fabritius painting, which I pointed out to him was on view at The Frick along with Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665).

“And you are telling me this now? It’s there only one more week.”

pearl earring

Photo by Lisa Kosan

So, we made plans for New York.  We left our two teenage boys behind — they barely lifted their eyes from their computers — and ran out the door. The trick of the trip was going to be getting into The Frick. We knew the lines were around the block, and advance online tickets were sold out.


Photo by Lisa Kosan

My mother, a volunteer at the Whitney, provided the solution with her opens-all-doors museum ID card. She scored tickets that morning. We skipped the outside line for the much-shorter indoor line that hugs The Frick’s Garden Court — much nicer than standing in the sleet on 5th Avenue. Within 20 minutes I was face to face with the Girl.

girl with the pearl

Photo by Lisa Kosan

My first thought was that the color of her jacket — satiny, green/gold — bore an uncanny resemblance to one of my own. But then I fixed on her eyes and her plump, parted lips. She clearly had something to say about the hours she sat for Vermeer, her head wrapped in a blue scarf and an impossibly large pearl earring reflecting the glorious Delft light. I felt as if I knew her. Had met her. I squeezed through the crowd in front of the Girl several more times during our visit. I wanted to hear what she was trying to tell me, but I also needed to concentrate on her expression, the shadows on her left cheek, the way the paint had crackled and that luscious lower lip.

The Goldfinch (1654) drew an equally impressive crowd, though I sensed more chatter in front of the tiny trompe l’oeil painting. Readers talked about Tartt’s novel.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Others discussed the illusion of the bird’s perch, which appeared to jut from the wooden panel, or the feathers, painted with quick strokes, more abstract than realist. A woman who noticed me with my mother volunteered that she, too, was reading the book and made a last-minute decision to visit The Frick.

“I grabbed my daughter and said I just had to see the The Goldfinch.”

watching the goldfinch

Photo by Lisa Kosan

For the record, my mom is almost done with the 784-page book; I’ll start it soon.

We also checked out works from Henry Clay Frick’s own collection. This might sound like name-dropping but it’s really just the thrill of seeing for myself spectacular pieces of art: Degas’ The Rehearsal, El Greco’s St. Jerome, Hans Holbein’s Sir Thomas More, Ingres’ Comtesse d’Haussonville, Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Julia, Lady Peel, Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington, and The Harbor of Dieppe by J.M.W. Turner, who’s coming to PEM in May.


Photo by Lisa Kosan

Thanks to Scot’s impromptu adventure planning, I was part of a record-setting crowd of 235,000 to have visited the Frick during the three months of Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis.

But our trip wasn’t over. We had tickets to the RV show — early retirement planning — to see the Airstreams, iconic examples of industrial design and our idea of classy travel. (We’re also excited to see a 1936 Airstream Clipper in California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way when the exhibition opens at PEM on March 29.)

The RV show at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center introduced a whole new world of outdoor flat-screen TVs, toy rooms for all-terrain vehicles, sliders (not the kind you eat), sewer hookups and hauling capacities. One day, maybe, you’ll see us in Yosemite, our stylish silver Airstream reflecting the Western sun, just like a certain pearl earring. I should have finished The Goldfinch by then.

airstream exterior

Photo by Lisa Kosan




One Comment

  1. Jim says:

    Wonderful post. I especially liked “She clearly had something to say about the hours she sat for Vermeer, her head wrapped in a blue scarf and an impossibly large pearl earring reflecting the glorious Delft light.” That little reflection always seemed like a story in itself.

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