Gerard Terborch (1617-81)
His Art and Style of Dutch Realism
Gerard Terborch has the distinction of being the only exponent of Dutch genre-painting with the experience and outlook of a man of the world. His art has a corresponding narrowness and refinement. He has a gentleman's dread of overstatement, and his oil painting, mostly executed in grays and blacks with a single flash of positive colour, are marvels of an entirely reticent emphasis.
Beyond his own world he has no curiosity and makes no explorations. His pictures depict the world of his boon companions, officers off duty and variously on pleasure bent. One sees the officer bargaining for a girl's favours; at his ease in a well-conducted brothel; interrupted in his dalliance by the unwelcome appearance of an orderly. This life he presumably knew at first hand and it may have been especially vivid to him, for a brother had died gallantly when the Dutch fleet vaingloriously invaded the Thames.
For details and information about
the 17th Century style of easel-art
which flourished in Holland, see:
Frans Snyders (1579-1657)
Still life painter from Antwerp.
Hendrik Terbrugghen (1588-1629)
Painter of the Utrecht school.
Adriaen Brouwer (1605-38)
Noted for his tavern genre-pictures.
Adriaen van Ostade (1610-85)
Peasant scene artist, from Haarlem.
Unique portraiture, self portraits.
David Teniers the Younger (1610-90)
Peasant, guardroom scenes.
Van Ruisdael (1628-82)
These pictures imply a very simple pattern
for living. It is man's function to pursue and possess, woman's function
to accept the situation sensibly and gracefully to attract pursuit and
reward possession. Terborch never shows any misgivings over his faith
in the conquering male. He exploits the theme absolutely without criticism
and with that imperturbable veracity which, two hundred and more years
later, Guy de Maupassant was to exemplify in fiction.
DUTCH REALIST STILL
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There are drawings by Gerard as early as his eighth year, and really spirited sketches of skaters which he did at fourteen. At eighteen, Terborch was at Amsterdam, having earlier been a pupil of Pieter Molyn at Haarlem. It speaks for his independence that, seeing in the impressionable years the most brilliant painting in the world, the mere boy maintained the sobriety of his own handling and outlook. Before he was twenty he had visited England. Probably he painted there some of those characterful little oval half-lengths and full-length portraits which we are unable to date. Indeed, it seems that before his fifties his activity was chiefly in small portraiture. Probably he found the competition at Amsterdam too pressing, for in 1646, at twenty-nine, he went to Munster, in Westphalia, to profit by the peace conference - much as ambitious young portrait painters naturally went to Versailles in 1920.
Here, he produced the extraordinary figurative
painting called the Delegates swearing to the Peace Treaty
(1648). The group is composed with clarity and dignity, the tiny heads
have much character, the decorative character and impressiveness of the
scene are well felt. Usually we feel sure Terborch practiced a gentleman's
phlegmatism, but even he must have had a catch in the throat over the
ceremony that ended the Thirty Years' War and gave legal sanction to the
independence of Holland. He seems to have painted this grand little historical
piece on his own account, and not on a commission. It is not only intrinsically
his most important picture, but also one of the most instructive for its
Composition and Subject Matter
While, on the whole, Terborch shows less gusto in painting honest women than in depicting the other sort, surely one of his best pictures is the Woman washing her Hands. It is in the best tradition of Dutch genre painting. It dignifies an ordinary act without sentimentalizing it, it expresses truly and charmingly the artist's difference in attitude towards the pretty hands of the lady herself and those of the servant. The realization of a rich interior, though on a lower key, is as complete as Vermeer's, the touching off of details, such as the jug and the carved picture frames, is of a magical and entirely unpretentious dexterity, which celebrates not itself, but the object under observation. It is one of the most elaborately composed Terborchs, without any sacrifice of the simplicity of central motive, which is merely the desirability of a comely and well-groomed woman.
For biographies of great artists,
see: Famous Painters.