Development of Genre Subject Matter: Scenes Drawn from Everyday
During the 1650s, Ter Borch often focused on subjects of daily
life in which a few people, usually two or three, engage in
activities that take place in formal interiors. In most instances,
the protagonists, shown wearing elegant clothes, interact
through refined, graceful gestures. The circumstances of what
is actually happening in these pictures remain a mystery.
The artist focuses attention onto the enigmatic nature of
human interaction through body language, gesture, and suggestive
Ter Borch was active in various Dutch cities during the period
from 1649 to 1654, including Zwolle, his birthplace. Zwolle
was a strategic military post that protected the eastern border
of the Dutch Republic. Soldiers were quartered there with
the local people, who ranged from a small upper class to local
artisans and farmers. With a characteristic eye for detail,
Ter Borch depicted common subjects such as a knife grinder
at work in his shed, a maid milking a cow, or a groom tending
a horse tied in a stable. The painter represented all these
subjects in unprecedented ways: their animal companions upstage
the human participants. The artist presents the coats of these
animals with the same sensuousness, as the exquisite satin
dresses worn by the women in more formal interiors.
The Grinder's Family, ca. 1653; Oil on canvas. Staatliche
Museen zu Berlin - Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Gemäldegalerie.
Photo: Jörg P. Anders/bpk 2003.