CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

National Gallery of Art Acquires Portrait by Gesina ter Borch

The National Gallery of Art announced the acquisition of Moses ter Borch Holding a Kolf Stick (ca. 1655), considered to be a collaboration between Gesina ter Borch and her half-brother, Gerard ter Borch the Younger. Genre and portrait painter Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1617–1681) was the most famous and prolific artist in the Ter Borch family, but his half-siblings, Gesina (1631–1690), Harmen (1638–before 1677), and Moses (1645–1667) were also trained by their father (Gerard ter Borch the Elder, 1583–1662) and were all gifted artists. A charming, informal depiction of a young boy poised to play a popular winter sport, Moses ter Borch Holding a Kolf Stick highlights the work of Gesina ter Borch, a superbly talented amateur woman artist who flourished in her family’s lively atmosphere of artistic exchange and mutual encouragement. The painting was acquired by the National Gallery through the generosity of The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund.

Gesina ter Borch (1631–1690), Moses ter Borch Holding a Kolf Stick, ca. 1655
National Gallery of Art, Washington

In the past, this intimate and engaging depiction of a young boy was erroneously attributed to Aelbert Cuyp (1620–1691), the renowned Dutch painter of landscapes and pastoral scenes. Beginning in 2016, scholars at the National Gallery questioned the attribution to Cuyp. The recent identification of the figure as Moses ter Borch—based on close comparison with portraits and self-portraits that document his abundant ginger curls and distinctive snubbed nose—prompted further research and a new attribution. It is now thought that Gerard ter Borch the Younger, the only professional artist among the siblings, probably devised the composition and that Gesina ter Borch executed the painting. Gesina made numerous drawings of her beloved youngest brother, and several years after this work was produced, collaborated with Gerard on a posthumous allegorical portrait of Moses (ca. 1668; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). Gesina’s many drawings and watercolors of individual figures and narrative groupings display a similar spontaneity, a delicate rendering of hands, feet, and facial features, and an interest in the precise depiction of costume details.

Dressed for winter weather, Moses ter Borch wears a long tunic with a decorative border, topped by a knee-length brown leather coat and a green cloak. Thick sheepskins are wrapped around his shoulders and torso, and his furry hat is made from another sheepskin. Similar hats and cloaks are often found in traditional allegorical representations of winter, although that season is typically personified by an older man or woman rather than a child. Contrasting with this practical layered bundling are Moses’s square-toed shoes with their trailing red ribbon laces, which were the height of fashion in the 1650s. In his hand, Moses holds a kolf stick: popular in the Dutch Republic, kolf—the forerunner of modern golf—was played both on land and, in the winter, on the smooth expanses of frozen waterways.