Gerard ter Borch (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

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9780300106398: Gerard ter Borch (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

The Dutch painter Gerard ter Borch (1617–1681) was a slightly older contemporary of Johannes Vermeer. Ter Borch’s beautiful and evocative paintings were not only varied in subject but also unparalleled among his peers in capturing the elegance and grace of wealthy burghers, the shimmering surface of satin, the undulating rhythms of translucent lace cuffs, and the nuanced psychological interactions between figures in an interior scene. Indeed, ter Borch’s genre scenes clearly influenced works later painted by Vermeer.
This lovely book—the first major English-language publication on ter Borch’s paintings—presents a selection of some of the most outstanding works from each area of the artist’s career: the remarkable early pictures of the 1630s, the midcareer genre paintings for which he is best known, and the small portraits that brought him prosperity throughout his life. Essays by noted experts on Dutch art discuss ter Borch’s artistic development, the “modern” aspects of his paintings, and his renowned technique for painting satin.

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Unlike his friend Vermeer, Gerhard ter Borch (1617-1681) may never be the hero of a movie. Yet he is renowned for paintings that reveal the inner lives of men and women while scrupulously rendering the shimmering satin fabric of their elaborate clothing. The essays by Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr. and other art historians in Gerhard ter Borch present a clear and thorough overview of the Dutch master's life and work. Handsome color plates reproduce 52 major paintings from throughout his career, and additional black-and-white photographs provide key art historical context. Ter Borch's life is unusually well-documented, thanks in part to his doting father. He carefully preserved his young son's drawings and urged him (in a letter) to compose "modern" scenes and paint in a way that would produce the most "beautiful and flowing" effects. In his mature work, Ter Borch would move beyond stock genre scenes--jolly revelers, soldiers and prostitutes, and so forth--to create keenly observed figures with individual personalities. Ter Borch's subject matter also included portraits of wealthy patrons, rural scenes of his hometown and a vivid depiction of the signing of the Treaty of Muenster. But interior scenes are his special province. Their distinctiveness and the culture that shaped them are explored in ways that combine the hard data and theoretical underpinnings of scholarship with appealing, fact-based speculation. For example, in "Lady Drinking While Holding a Letter" (circa 1665), a woman in a lustrous golden dress--who resembles Ter Borch's cultured sister Gesina--stares moodily into space as she drinks a glass of wine and holds a drooping opened letter. Love letters were a popular theme in Dutch art. An old drinking song prescribed wine for melancholy. The painting may also recall an incident in the life of the real Gesina, whose serious romance ended a few years earlier. Ter Borch's technical brilliance is also discussed at length in an essay that incorporates UV fluorescent photos to analyze how dazzling optical effects can be created with flecks of paint. Gerard ter Borchis the catalogue for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (through January 2005) that travels to the Detroit Institute of Arts. --Cathy Curtis

About the Author:

Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., is curator of northern baroque painting at the National Gallery of Art and the author of Johannes Vermeer and Vermeer and the Art of Painting, both available from Yale University Press; Alison McNeil Kettering is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Art History at Carleton College; Arie Wallert is curator at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; and Marjorie Elizabeth Wieseman is curator of European painting and sculpture at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

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