CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Gerard ter Borch

Exhibition: 28 February - 22 May 2005


In Detroit, Gerard ter Borch is organized by George Keyes, DIA chief curator and curator of European paintings.


The exhibition is organized by the American Federation of Arts, New York, and the National Gallery of Art.

Museum press release, 24 January 2005

Between Rembrandt and Vermeer there was Gerard ter Borch (1617–1681), the Dutch master who captured intimate moments of everyday life with elegance and grace. The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) will present the stunning exhibition Gerard ter Borch, Feb. 27–May 22, 2005. This is the first presentation in North America exclusively of works by Ter Borch, one of the finest genre and portrait painters of the 17th century. Gerard Ter Borch is comprised of 46 of his best masterpieces that have been brought together from 29 private and public collections including the National Gallery in London and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam along with two pieces from the DIA’s renowned 17th-century Dutch collection. The DIA will be the only other U.S. venue for Gerard ter Borch after its successful run at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. This exhibition was organized by the American Federation of Arts, New York, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

The exhibition

Ter Borch’s paintings are varied, and the selection in this exhibition represents each phase of his career: early paintings of the 1630s, his mid-career genre pieces; and his portraits, distinctive for their attention to fabric detail. Among over 20 striking genre paintings in the exhibition, one of Ter Borch’s most refined and provocative masterpieces is the DIA’s Lady at Her Toilette, which features a lavishly dressed young woman, possibly preparing herself for a formal event. Ter Borch interwove symbolism into each element of the piece: the mirror is associated with transience; the snuffed out candles imply love’s passing; and the colors of her gown, blue and white, signify jealousy and purity. As a result, a painting that seems to be simple in nature, is thought to convey a woman who is feeling the anxieties of love.

By the 1640s, Ter Borch’s reputation as an exceptional portraitist grew, resulting in commissions from upper-class Dutch citizens. His piece Helena van der Schalcke is considered one of the 17th century’s most memorable images of childhood. The two-year-old Van der Schalcke is dressed in a white bodice and skirt, with a lace-trimmed apron, and a cap covering her head. In her right hand, she holds a carnation, which was commonly associated with images of the Virgin and child. This painting has frequently been interpreted as a symbol of divine love, resurrection and hope of eternal innocence. Later Ter Borch focused on more simple subjects as seen in paintings such as A Maid Milking a Cow in a Barn and The Grinder’s Family. These paintings have a sympathetic quality, providing intimate insight into interactions of everyday life.

The artist

Ter Borch was born into a well-to-do family of artists and was initially trained by his father. He quickly gained notoriety and eventually studied with reputed artists in many cities in the Netherlands and around Europe. Ter Borch’s earliest works depict military life, but his status as a master of 17th-century Dutch painting grew from his acclaimed representations of poignant genre scenes, which followed common themes of letter writing, encounters between men and women and family interactions. Ter Borch had the unique ability to insinuate psychological responses of lost love, purity and jealousy through his impeccably detailed gestures, glances and expressions. The nature of what is actually transpiring in these paintings remains a mystery forever unsolved. This intimate psychological study set Ter Borch apart from many of his comparable contemporaries, such as Johannes Vermeer. Finally settling in Deventer, The Netherlands to paint society portraits, Ter Borch married a wealthy widow and joined the ranks of the city’s ruling elite until he died at age 64.


Gerard ter Borch, the 240-page exhibition catalog, is the first major English-language publication on the artist and is a significant contribution to the study of 17th-century Dutch painting. Published by the American Federation of Arts and the National Gallery of Art in association with Yale University Press, the catalog includes full-color reproductions and entries for each of the paintings in the exhibition. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., National Gallery of Art’s curator of northern baroque painting and curator of this exhibition, wrote the majority of the entries, with contributions from Ter Borch expert Alison McNeil Kettering, professor of art history at Carleton College, Northfield, Minn.; Marjorie E. Wieseman, Cincinnati Art Museum curator of European painting and sculpture and Arie Wallert, curator at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. The catalog is available in the DIA’s museum shop in hardcover and in softcover.

Other venue

Washington, National Gallery of Art (7 November 2004-30 January 2005)
Following Detroit, a small selection of paintings will be shown at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (9 June–4 September 2005).


The exhibition supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The catalog for this exhibition was made possible, in part, by grants from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund. Gerard ter Borch: A Resource for Educators was supported, in part, by The Netherland-America Foundation. Additional support was provided by the National Patrons of the AFA.