Was Ver­meer a copy­cat?

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Exhibitions -

A new ex­hi­bi­tion sug­gests that the Delft master was, in fact, ‘highly un­o­rig­i­nal’

trunk filled with clothes and art sup­plies, in­clud­ing a mannequin.

With it was a let­ter, of­fer­ing in­struc­tions: “Use the mannequin and do not let it stand idle,” his fa­ther wrote. “Draw a lot: large, dy­namic com­po­si­tions.”

Ev­i­dently, the young­ster took this ad­vice to heart be­cause, in time, he be­came one of the most renowned artists of the Dutch Golden Age. His work was sought af­ter by the aris­to­cratic elite of Am­s­ter­dam. And mon­archs and rulers across Europe – in­clud­ing Wil­liam of Or­ange and Cosimo III de’ Medici – de­sired his ser­vices.

Yet, to­day, Ger­ard ter Borch, as he was called, is hardly a house­hold name. This is, surely, one of the great in­jus­tices of art his­tory, for Ter Borch (1617-81) was a suave and spellbinding artist, fa­mous for his pic­tures of juf­fer­t­jes (young ladies) that show­cased his mar­vel­lous abil­ity to cap­ture the sheen and tex­ture of sump­tu­ous satin gowns.

More­over, he was an es­sen­tial in­flu­ence upon his younger con­tem­po­rary, Jo­hannes Ver­meer (1632-75). And while, to­day, Ter Borch is, if not for­got­ten, then recog­nised prin­ci­pally by spe­cial­ists, Ver­meer is, of course, uni­ver­sally cel­e­brated.

“With­out Ter Borch, there would be no Ver­meer – that is clear,” says Adri­aan E Wai­boer, the art his­to­rian re­spon­si­ble for Ver­meer and the Mas­ters of Genre Paint­ing, a scin­til­lat­ing new ex­hi­bi­tion of 60 paint­ings (in­clud­ing 10 by the master of Delft), which is about to open in Dublin, at the re­fur­bished Na­tional Gallery of Ire­land.

Ear­lier this year, a ver­sion of the ex­hi­bi­tion was staged at the Lou­vre, where it was vis­ited by 325,000 peo­ple. Walk­ing around, it was clear to me that the show’s un­sung hero – the great in­no­va­tor who pop­u­larised many of the sub­jects and mo­tifs later im­mor­talised by Ver­meer – was Ter Borch, an artist as­so­ci­ated not with the dy­namic metropo­lis of Am­s­ter­dam, or even Delft, but with a small Dutch trad­ing town called Deven­ter, out in the sticks, in the eastern prov­ince of Over­i­js­sel.

Born in Zwolle, also in Over­i­js­sel, Ter Borch was taught to draw by his fa­ther, who proudly kept an early sketch of a horse­man by his son, ex­e­cuted when he was just seven years old.

Fol­low­ing ap­pren­tice­ships in Am­s­ter­dam, Haar­lem and Lon­don, where he must have been daz­zled by the el­e­gance of the English court, Ter Borch Jr de­parted for south­ern Europe. Dur­ing his trav­els, which oc­cu­pied him for the next decade and a half, he vis­ited Spain where, it was said, he painted Philip IV. If true, this was an as­ton­ish­ing coup: it beg­gars

‘It’s clear that with­out Ger­ard ter Borch, there would be no Ver­meer’

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