Overview

Dutch seventeenth-century artists drew their subject matter from all elements of society. The refinement of the wealthy burghers in the second half of the century was best captured by Gerard ter Borch the Younger. His exquisite painting technique, which consisted of delicate touches with the brush and the use of thin glazes to suggest transparencies, allowed him to create realistic textural effects, whether of lace, satin, or the pile of an oriental tablecloth. His pictures’ calm moods and brilliant renditions of fabrics set a precedent for later painters such as Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675) and Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667). Ter Borch particularly favored depictions of music lessons, as the subject provided him the opportunity to depict the social interactions of people within a domestic setting and to explore the many symbolic allusions of music, from marital harmony to love and seduction. The theme also allowed him to show off his superb skills in rendering materials, especially the sumptuous textiles worn by his female subjects.

Ter Borch’s sensitive and elegant genre scenes were in high demand, and a large number of replicas and versions of his paintings were created by assistants in his workshop. Based on stylistic and qualitative comparisons, Music Lesson was likely painted by an artist working directly under Ter Borch’s supervision. Concentrating on her music book, an elegantly attired woman strums her bent-necked theorbo—a large baroque lute with an extra set of bass strings—to the beat established by her music teacher. The artist created his composition by adapting a number of motifs the master had used in earlier works. The most important source of inspiration was Ter Borch’s A Woman Playing a Theorbo to Two Men, now in the National Gallery, London.

Inscription

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Marks and Labels

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Provenance

(Van Diemen, Berlin and New York), in 1929.[1] William R. Timken [1866-1949], New York; by inheritance to his wife, Lillian S. Guyer Timken [1881-1959], New York; bequest 1960 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1967
Loan for display with permanent collection, Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, Athens, 1967-1971.
1979
Loan for display with permanent collection, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1979-1993.

Bibliography

1959
Gudlaugsson, Sturla J. Geraert ter Borch. 2 vols. The Hague, 1959-1960: 2(1960):206, no. 221r.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 126, as School of Terborch.
1968
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 113, repro.
1975
National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 336-337, repro.
1985
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 387, repro.
1986
Ford, Terrence, compiler and ed. Inventory of Music Iconography, no. 1. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York 1986: 6, no. 129.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 30-32, repro. 31.

Conservation Notes

The support, a fine-weight, tightly and plain-woven fabric, has been lined with the tacking margins trimmed. Three moderately sized complex tears in the background to the left and right of the man’s head have become visible again due to the cleaving and lifting of paint along the tear edges. Thin, fluid paint is applied over a thin, smooth, white ground with little layering and no appreciable impasto or brushmarking. There is some moderate abrasion overall. The contour of the man’s proper right shoulder and hair has been reinforced, and there is glazing over his costume, possibly to cover local abrasion. The varnish layer is matte and discolored. No treatment has been undertaken at the National Gallery of Art.

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