A talented lady : Gesina ter Borch.
Surprising scenes of daily life in the 17th century. Simply charming, or full of feeling and compassion.
Most of the surviving work of Gesina came to us through a couple of family albums. Drawings and water colours, poems and songs. Observations of everyday life, and family events.
Gesina ter Borch (1631 - 1690) lived in Zwolle, an old Hanzeatic trading town in the eastern Netherlands. Her father was a valued painter, before choosing for the safety of steady office.
His children were clearly gifted with talent, which he encouraged with a broad artistic education, and painting lessons. For the boys in the first place, certainly, but the girls could at least attend.
Gesina's brother Gerard ter Borch became the most renowned painter in the family.
For all images below on this page : click on them for the full work in high resolution in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Above left a woman carrying two sleeping children on her back. (1651)
Two women doing the laundry. Stamping in the tub, while singing a work song. The lyrics of the song are written down under the drawing. (c.1652)
People leaving church. If you wonder about the wooden boxes the women are carrying : stoves, to put your feet on. Draping the long skirt over it kept you warm. There was no heating in church.
The glowing coal you needed for the stove was sold at the church, generally peat in the 1600s. For those who could afford it.
Children relieving themselves. (c.1650)
Social meeting. A drinking song written above the drawing. Also women smoked pipe.
A party disturbed by death. (1660)
Gesina's brother Mozes, also a painter, joined the Dutch navy during the Second English war.
He participated in the daring and devastating "Raid on the Medway", bringing destruction for the English fleet and main naval facilities round Chatham, not far from London. An episode considered by a British admiral "the worst disaster in Navy history".
Shortly afterwards during the same campaign, Mozes fell in an attack on Fort Landguard. He was buried in Harwich.
On this aquarelle by Gesina, death is rowing, coming to get Mozes ter Borch. In several other drawings and writings, she expressed deep grief over the loss of her brother.
We know from various sources that Gesina did take painting seriously. But being a decent member of a wealthy family, she never aspired to a painting career.
Her work remained largely within what was socially acceptable, mainly for family and friends. Although her talent was recognised and valued in a wider circle.
One can only wonder what she might have achieved in other circumstances.
Gesina sure was an excellent observer, with a broad range of interests. Also, being a woman, her focus was different in certain respects.
That she didn't need to work for the market gave her more freedom in the choice of subjects. Not always sweet nor obedient.
Gesina ter Borch was not the only female artist in the 17th century Netherlands.
Judith Leyster (1609 - 1660), well acquainted with Frans Hals, passed the professional qualifications for the Haarlem painters guild. Which gave her equal rights to open her own workshop, and sign her work.
Judith Leyster's painting career stopped abruptly after she started having children.
Other trained professional female painters who worked successfully for the market are Rachel Ruysch (1664 - 1750), and Maria van Oosterwijck (1630 - 1693).
There were also a few women who painted and sold work without the official credentials, so it was possible.
But for most talented women the audience was more or less limited to family and friends. Just as for Gesina, painting not as a career, but as an accepted and appreciated part of social life in higher circles.
External links :
Hundreds more drawings and water colour paintings by Gesina ter Borch in the Rijksmuseum Collection.
Page on her brother, and successful painter Gerard ter Borch in Wikipedia.
Woman painter Judith Leyster in Wikipedia.
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