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Gerard ter Borch II and Studio

The Music lesson

Hammered at SEK 840.000 at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale Week 16-18 June 2020

Lot 15. Gerard ter Borch II (Holland 1617‑1681) and Studio. The Music lesson: An elegant woman seen from the back, standing small full length in an interior, singing from a book of scores with a man at a table conducting nearby. Oil on relined canvas, 67.5 x 54.5 cm.


400.000 – 600.000 SEK
€ 38.000 – 57.000


J.A. Sichterman (1692‑1764), Groningen; sale, Rudolf van Groenenbergh Groningen, 20 August 1764, lot 151.
Prince Frederick, Duke of York (1763‑1827).
Mrs Bartlett.
Mrs Palmer Lovell, London.
With Minken, Amsterdam, 1938.
The collection of Han A. van Meegeren (1889‑1947), Amsterdam, acquired from the above.
His Sale; on the premises Keizersgracht 521, Amsterdam under the direction of Paul Brandt, 5/6 September 1950, lot 126, with ill.
A Private Swedish Collection, Stockholm, 1951.
Thence by descent to the present owners.


Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, ”Gerard ter Borch: die galante Konversation. Ein Meisterwerk und sein virtuose Varianten”, 17 October 2019‑29 February 2020.


C. Hofstede de Groot, A catalogue raisonné of the works of the most eminent Dutch painters of the seventeenth century, V, 1913, no. 142C.
Fr. Hannema, Gerard Ter Borch, 1943, p. 195, with ill.
Catalogus van de hoogste belangrijke kunst, antiek en inboedelveiling uit nalatenschap Han van Meegeren, 1950, cat. no. 126.
Sturla J. Gudlaugsson, Katalog der Gemälde Gerard Ter Borchs, 1960, II, p. 119, no. 110 I – u) as pastiche.
Arie Wallert and Gwen Tauber, Over herhalingen in de schilderkunst: het probleem van de reproductive, in Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum, LII, 2004, p. 320.
(Forthcoming) Arie Wallert, Gwen Tauber, Techniques of Reproduction in the Studio of ter Borch, in: Katja Kleinert, Gerard ter Borch: Gallant Conversation. A Masterpiece and its Virtuosic Variants.

In context

Gerard ter Borch – An Extraordinary Painter Of Silk

The present painting, which was lost from sight since the H.A. van Meegeren’s sale in Amsterdam in 1950 and which resurfaced in 2018 from a Swedish private collection, underwent extensive technically examination in 2019. The results of this examination confirm that the painting is consistent with the work of two Dutch painters working three hundred years apart: Gerard ter Borch II and Han van Meegeren. Results will be published in a forthcoming article by A. Wallert and G. Tauber. Their report is available for consultation on request.

Gerard ter Borch’s Gallant Conversation

Fig. 4 from Wallert and Tauber, ’Techniques of Reproduction in the Studio of ter Borch’, forthcoming publication, showing an overlay comparison of the tracings of the ”The Music Lesson” of this sale (black) and the tracing of the painting in the Hermitage (green).

The painting shows Gerard ter Borch’s iconic motif of the elegant woman in a silk dress seen from the back, such as she also appears in the paintings of a Gallant Conversation, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin among others. In contrast to the scene depicted in these paintings, the woman appears here singing from a book of scores, which she holds in her hands, whereby a man seated at a table makes a gesture with his right hand as if he is the musical instructor. The same man is also seen in a painting, entitled ”Musical Instruction”, now in the National Gallery, London, albeit there with a woman seated playing a guitar.

While Gudlaugsson saw in the combination of the two motifs ample reason to judge the painting as a pastiche, the recent technical examination has confirmed an origin in ter Borch’s studio and has also firmly placed it in the group of at least seven studio variants by ter Borch of the Gallant Conversation, of which a number including the present painting were recently shown in an exhibition entitled Gerard ter Borch : die galante Konversation. Ein Meisterwerk und sein virtuose varianten in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, 2019/20.

By its subject and style, the painting takes its own distinct place within the group. The Gallant Conversation as seen in the Amsterdam and Berlin paintings is here changed into a musical gathering. The color scheme is subdued, with the dark greens of the tablecloth, the chair and the curtains of the bed functioning as backdrop for the shiny silk skirt as to increase its visual impact. The dark collar of the dress of the lady as much as the dark coat of the music teacher equally reinforce the visual effect.

The motif of the lady standing in a silk dress and seen from the back is undoubtfully the most famous of all the inventions by Gerard ter Borch and has been endlessly admired, not in the least by contemporary artists. The success depends largely on the fact that the woman is seen from the back leaving her expression out of sight. Her still pose takes on a sculptural quality, with the folds of the shining silk giving it an almost abstract form. The demand from collectors at the time obviously stimulated the recycling of the motif in various different compositions, which met the desire for the recognizable as much as for the unique.

As explained by A. Wallert and G. Tauber, op. cit., 2004, the various versions were the result of ter Borch’s efficient studio practice including a reproduction method on the basis of a cartoon. As suggested by A. Wallert, The Miracle of ter Borch’s Satin, in: A.K. Wheelock. Gerard ter Borch, 2004, p. 36, the most likely method of transfer would probably have been a drawing blackened at the reverse (or with an extra blackened transfer paper laid between)  which was laid on the canvas, so that when running a stylus over the contours of the drawing, the outlines in black pigment would be transferred onto the canvas. A recent tracing of the figure in the present painting has demonstrated that the form and drapery are so similar to the same figure in the Hermitage painting, that the two versions must have been produced by a cartoon. Given a slight difference in scale with the same figure in the Amsterdam and Berlin paintings, this was probably a second cartoon, replacing an earlier one, whereby the figure was given a wider and longer skirt at the bottom and an extra pleat in front. Examination of a cross-section taken from the white paint in the skirt revealed a typical Dutch 17th century build-up beginning with a lead-white ground.

Han van Meegeren’s intervention

Fig. from a forthcoming publication, Wallert and Tauber, showing the MA-XRF zinc map.

Technical examination of the painting through X Ray Fluorescence in selected spots and scanning MA-X-Ray Fluorescence of the whole surface, revealed the presence of modern pigments containing zinc and cadmium in areas such as the silk skirt, the sash of the man conducting, the gaps in his sleeves, the tassels at the tablecloth and the tacks of the chair. As zinc sulfide was only developed around 1850, these findings indicate a modern intervention which is likely to have been carried out by Han van Meegeren.

Van Meegeren, who is acknowledged today as being the most famous master forger of all times, purchased the painting from art dealer Minken in 1938. It remained in his possession until his death in 1947 and was finally sold at auction in September 1950. Van Meegeren’s ownership is acknowledged by a portrait of 1944, where the present painting is seen in the background. Since 1951 the painting has been in a Swedish private collection, where it is unlikely to have undergone any conservation of restoration. The pedigree thus confirms van Meegeren’s intervention. The present painting is thus a unique case whereby its visual appearance is as much the result of Gerard ter Borch II’s as of Han van Meegeren’s.

Silk as an expression of virtuosity

Gerard ter Borch II has been recognized as a brilliant painter of silk. Arnold Houbraken confirms the high esteem in which the painter was held for his truthful rendering of fabrics and especially silk at the time and states that because of his extraordinary skill he often displays it in his paintings. Ter Borch’s most famous paintings indeed show elegant ladies in shiny silk dresses, such as that of ”The Introduction” of circa 1662, at Polesden Lacy (Gudlaugsson, cat. no. 187) and ”Curiosity” of circa 1660, now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (Gudlaugsson, cat. no. 164).

The paintings of the Gallant Conversation in the Rijksmuseum and in the Gemäldegalerie Berlin of circa 1654 established his reputation as skilled painter of silk and would be the start of a successful further career as a portraitist and a painter of genre scenes. By that time Satijntjes such as they were called had become increasingly popular and would remain in high demand for at least three more decades. The genre originated with Willem Duyster, Pieter Codde and Dirck Hals in Haarlem, who had increasingly inserted shiny materials in their compositions of merry companies. Ter Borch must have first been acquainted with the practice of painting fabrics during his apprenticeship in Haarlem. Here as elsewhere perhaps the advice given by Karel van Mander to draw from wetted paper was put into practice.

As explained by A. Wallert, 2004, pp. 33/41, the difficulty of painting silk was its reflection of light. In drapery, the light reflections were even more complicated as each pleat reflected the light differently whereas the dress had to be a visual unity. Ter Borch’s mastery consisted in a deep understanding of the various reflections and also in a superb painterly technique of thinly applied layers of paint.

Marina Aarts, May 2020

Video from the estate sale of Han van Meegeren in Amsterdam, 5 September 1950
The present painting, which is featured twice in the video, was sold for 6400 Dutch guilders.

© Polygoon-Profilti / Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid

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