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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Gerard ter Borch the Younger/The Suitor's Visit/c. 1658,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed October 07, 2015).


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Apr 24, 2014 Version
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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).

In this painting, an elegant gentleman bows gracefully as he enters the room. A young woman wearing a beautiful satin dress with an orange-red jacket stands to greet him while another woman plays a theorbo, a type of lute, at the table. Behind them a man warms his hands at the fireplace. The clothes, instruments, imposing mantelpiece, and gilded wallpaper all attest to the prosperity of the people. Ter Borch focused on the psychological interaction between the suitor and the standing woman, who communicate through glances and gestures.

Contemporary viewers would have greatly admired Ter Borch’s remarkable ability to render satins in The Suitor’s Visit, but they would also have been intrigued by the painting's subject matter. Does this scene depict an innocent social call, or does the graceful lady answering the door invite her suitor in for a sexual encounter? The answer is not easy to discern because the artist delighted in capturing the ambivalence of human relationships through his carefully considered renderings of gazes and gesture.


The encounter taking place at the doorway of this elegant, high-ceilinged room, decorated with gilded leather wall covering, seems the height of gentility.[1] A debonair young man, hat in hand, bows slightly as he responds to the alluring gaze of the young woman who has come forward to greet him. She apparently has just risen from her green velvet seat where she had been playing a duet with the woman strumming on her theorbo: her music book and bass viol can be seen lying on the table. Behind the women stands a man who, in the dimness of the interior light, warms himself before the hearth as he turns to peer at the visitor.

Ter Borch drew upon his surroundings in Deventer for creating a sense of immediacy in his compositions. The objects in this work, including the tapestry on the table, the chair, the theorbo, the hearth, and the leather wall covering, were ones he knew well, as they reappear in different contexts in a number of other paintings from the mid-1650s.[2] The model for the suitor was his student Gaspar Netscher (Dutch, 1639 - 1684), who also features in other of Ter Borch’s paintings from the mid-to-late 1650s.[3] Indeed, Netscher made a copy of this painting before he set sail for Rome in 1659, a date that establishes a terminus post quem for this work.[4] Finally, the elegant standing woman, resplendent in her red top and white satin dress, is almost certainly Gesina ter Borch (1631–1690), the artist’s beloved half-sister.[fig. 1] Not only did she frequently serve as a model for the artist,[5] but her ideas seem to have had a profound effect on the type and character of the subjects Ter Borch chose to depict during this phase of his career.[6]

By the mid-1650s Gesina had embarked on her own artistic and literary career with her poetry album, which is filled with arcadian images of love’s pleasures and disappointments.[7] Gesina’s poetry and pictorial images in this and other albums belong to that important Dutch literary genre, largely influenced by Petrarchan ideals, that both celebrates the delights of love and warns against the dangers of becoming ensnared in ill-advised attachments.[8] In this respect she followed in the path of her father, who, aside from his topographic drawings, was also a poet and who, in the 1620s, helped illustrate an amorous songbook with images of lovers cavorting in the grass.

It is against this background of family interest in art, music, and emblematic literature about love and its complexities that one must consider the nature of the narrative that unfolds in The Suitor’s Visit. Under the veneer of gentility is a scene that is alive with sexual innuendo. The gazes of the couple at the door are at once enticing and yearning, a private communication that does not go unnoticed by the gentleman standing before the hearth. More explicitly sexual, however, is the nature of their gestures. The young woman clasps her hands in a manner that could be construed as an invitation for intercourse, as the thumb of her right hand protrudes between the index finger and second finger of her other hand in a most unconventional, and expressive, manner. His gesture in response appears to be an assent, for as he bows he forms a circle between the thumb and index finger of his left hand.

Ter Borch does not spell out the outcome of the woman’s ploy—for her central position in the composition and the dog’s inquisitive gaze clearly indicate she is the initiator of the intrigue. Undoubtedly, however, Ter Borch’s circle of acquaintances would have recognized that his composition had remarkable parallels with an image found in Jan Hermanszoon Krul’s influential Eerlycke Tytkorting (Honorable Pastimes), published in Haarlem in 1634, which contains emblems devoted to the delights and travails of love.[9] The related print [fig. 2] accompanies an emblem entitled “De Overdaed en Doet Geen Baet” (roughly, "The Excess That Brings No Profit"). The thrust of the emblem is a warning that encouragement by a woman is not always to be trusted. Whereas a suitor might feel that love and commitment would follow, all too often the lover is rejected and then belittled. Krul writes of the lover’s lament: “If you never intend to have me, why so much courtship? / It would honor you best to send me straight away.”[10] The similarities between the painting and the print seem to imply that the outcome of this match will likewise be disappointment. Finally, not unrelated to the painting’s mood are the colors of the woman’s dress. In the list of color symbols Gesina compiled in her poetry album around 1659, white is equated with purity and carnation with revenge or cruelty.[11]

The subtlety of Ter Borch’s narrative is matched by the gracefulness of his figures and the delicacy and refinement of his touch. No artist could convey as effectively as he the shimmering surface of a long white satin skirt or the undulating rhythms of a translucent lace cuff. His brushstrokes, while small, are quite loose and rapidly applied with the result that the surface has a richly animated quality.[12] Such an effect is also felt in the nuanced psychological interactions he created amongst his figures. Ter Borch’s effectiveness in depicting human emotion and a sense of inner life in such genre scenes may stem from his experiences as a portrait painter. Even the poses he used in these works are occasionally similar. For example, the manner in which the suitor holds his wide-brimmed hat is derived from a portrait the artist created in 1656.[13]






Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014


Marks and Labels



Charles-Auguste-Louis-Joseph, duc de Morny [1811-1865], Paris; (his estate sale, at the Palais de la Présidence du Corps Législatif, Paris, 31 May-12 June 1865, no. 82); Josè Salamanca y Mayol [Marquès de Salamanca, d. 1866], Madrid; (sale, at his residence by Charles Pillet, Paris, 3-6 June 1867, no. 126); Baron Adolphe de Rothschild [1823-1900], Paris; by inheritance to his first cousin once-removed, Baron Maurice de Rothschild [1881-1957], Paris; (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); sold July 1922 to Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 28 December 1934 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History
Masterpieces of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300-1800, New York World's Fair, 1939, no. 369.
Gerard ter Borch, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Detroit Institute of Arts, 2004-2005, no. 30, repro.
Sparkling Satin - The Best of Gerard ter Borch, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2005, no catalogue.
Lagrange, Léon. "La Galerie de M. Le Duc De Morny." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 14 (April 1863): 289-306, 571, repro.
Jewell, Edward Alden. "Mellon's Gift." Magazine of Art 30, no. 2 (February 1937): 82.
McCall, George Henry. Masterpieces of art: Catalogue of European paintings and sculpture from 1300-1800. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Exh. cat. New York World's Fair, New York, 1939: no. 369.
Duveen Brothers. Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941: no. 208, repro.
Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 191, no. 58.
National Gallery of Art. Book of illustrations. 2nd ed. Washington, 1942: no. 58, repro. 32, 240.
Plietzsch, Eduard. Gerard ter Borch. Vienna, 1944: 21, 47, no. 57, repro.
Gudlaugsson, Sturla J. "De datering van de schilderijen van Gerard Ter Borch." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 2 (1948–1949): 235, 263.
L. J. Roggeveen. "De National Gallery of Art te Washington." Phoenix 4, no. 12 (December 1949): 339, repro.
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 91, repro.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 106-107, color repro.
Gudlaugsson, Sturla J. Geraert ter Borch. 2 vols. The Hague, 1959-1960: 1(1959):116-119, repro. 119, 296; 2(1960):147-148, no. 139.
Baird, Thomas P. Dutch Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art 7. Washington, 1960: 32, color repro.
The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 25.
Grinten, Evert F. van der. "Le cachalot et le mannequin: deux facettes de la réalité dans l’art hollandais du seizième et du dix-septième siècles." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 13 (1962): 168, fig. 20.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 190, repro.
Haverkamp-Begemann, Egbert. "Terborch's Lady at Her Toilet." Art News 64 (December 1965): 38-41, 62-63, fig. 8.
National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 126.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1: 250, color repro. 1968.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 113, no. 58, repro.
Langemeyer, Gerhard. Gerard ter Borch: Zwolle 1617, Deventer 1681. Exh. cat. Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Münster. The Hague, 1974: 37.
Robinson, Franklin W. Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667): A Study of His Place in Dutch Genre Painting of the Golden Age. New York, 1974: 53-54.
National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 336, repro.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 284, color repro.
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 81, pl. 67.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 284, no. 371, color repro.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1984: 30-31, color repro.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 387, repro.
Rumsey, Thomas R. Men and women in revolution and war, 1600-1815. Wellesley Hills, MA, 1985: 57, repro.
Ford, Terrence, compiler and ed. Inventory of Music Iconography, no. 1. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York 1986: 6, no. 130.
Mittler, Gene A. Art in Focus. Peoria, 1986: 26, fig. 2.14.
Smith, David R. "Irony and Civility: Notes on the Convergence of Genre and Portraiture in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting." Art Bulletin 69 (September 1987): 423-424, repro.
Roodenburg, Herman. "The ‘hand of friendship’: shaking hands and other gestures in the Dutch Republic" in A Cultural History of Gesture From Antiquity to the Present Day. (Cambridge, 1991). Edited by Jan Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg. Ithaca, 1992: 152-189, fig. 7.1.
Ydema, Onno. Carpets and Their Datings in Netherlandish Paintings, 1540-1700. Zutphen, 1991: 188, no. 860.
Fiero, Gloria K. The Age of the Baroque and the European Enlightenment. The Humanist Tradition 4. Dubuque, 1992: 47, fig. 22.7.
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 133, repro.
Kettering, Alison McNeil. "Ter Borch’s Ladies in Satin." Art History 16 (March 1993): 97, repro.
Weyl, Martin, and Rivka Weiss-Blok, eds. Painting the Bible in Rembrandt's Holland. Exh. cat. Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam. Jerusalem, 1993: xv, 64, no. 58.
Fiero, Gloria K. The Age of the Baroque and the European Enlightenment. The Humanistic Tradition 4. 2nd ed. Madison, 1995: 47, fig. 22.7.
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. New York, 1995: 795, fig. 19-55.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 26-28, color repro. 29.
Kettering, Alison McNeil. "Ter Borch's Ladies in Satin" in Looking at seventeenth-century Dutch art: realism reconsidered. Edited by Wayne E. Franits. Cambridge, 1997: 98, 100, fig. 62.
Roberts, Helene E., ed. Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:561.
Witthoft, Brucia. "Marriage/Bethrothal." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art, edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:561.
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. 2 vols. Revised ed. New York, 1999: 2:794-795, fig. 19-52.
Westermann, Mariët, et al. Art & Home: Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt. Exh. cat. Denver Art Museum; Newark Museum. Zwolle, 2001: 147.
Bailey, Colin B., Philip Conisbee, and Thomas W. Gaehtgens. The age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: masterpieces of French genre painting. Edited by Colin B. Bailey. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; National Gallery of Art, Washington; Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museum zu Berlin. New Haven, 2003: 296, fig. 138.
Franits, Wayne E. Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting. Its Stylistic and Thematic Evolution. New Haven and London, 2004: 100-101, fig. 89.
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 203, no. 161, color repro.
Keyes, George S., et al. Masters of Dutch Painting: The Detroit Institute of Arts. London, 2004: 32, fig. 2.
Waiboer, Adriaan, and Mary Davis. Gerard ter Borch. Exhibition brochure. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2004: unpaginated, repro.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Gerard ter Borch. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Detroit Institute of Arts. New Haven, 2004: 13-14, 15, fig. 11, 123-125, no. 30, repro.
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. Rev. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, 2005: 777, fig. 19-65.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "Colour Symbolism in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting" in The Learned Eye: Regarding art, theory, and the artist's reputation: Essays for Ernst van de Wetering. Edited by Marieke van den Doel, et al. Amsterdam, 2005: 105, 107, fig. 3.
Gustin Gomez, Clémentine. L’avènement du plaisir dans la peinture française, de Le Brun à Watteau. Dijon, 2011: 276, color repro.
Technical Summary

The tightly woven, plain-weave fabric support, composed of fine irregularly spun threads, was lined with the tacking margins trimmed. Broad cusping is visible along the left and right edges. A smooth beige ground is striated with white in places, suggesting the presence of a white underlayer.

Thin fluid paint layers are applied freely and blended wet-into-wet in a series of thin scumbles of liquid, soft-edged colors. Fine details are painted wet over dry. Flesh tones are composed of a gray underpainting, thinly glazed to form shading, more thickly overpainted to create light areas. Microscopic examination reveals a change in the placement of the dog’s front legs and an adjustment of the suitor’s proper left hand gesture.

Although the background has probably darkened over time, the painting is in excellent condition, with small abraded losses confined to the thinly applied darks. The painting was treated in 2003–2004, at which time discolored varnish and old inpainting were removed.

Related IconClass Terms
postures and gestures of hands and fingers
Arcadian scenes
fashion and clothing +aristocracy
high life
portrait +Caspar Netscher
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