Ter Borch was an astute observer of social behavior as well as the physical environment. In this intimate courtship scene, fine fabrics, silver objects, wood, paper, light, and shadows all reveal their distinctive qualities. The woman strums a theorbo and the man appears to sing, a duet that resonates with the heartstrings. The watch quietly recommends temperance.
This painting has been dated convincingly to about 1658 (Gudlaugsson 1948–49). The careful dovetailing of shapes between the man and woman is similar to Vermeer's approach to design at about the same time, but Ter Borch's style differs strongly in most respects. The latter artist dwells upon tactile sensations and reflections on metalwork, silk, satin, and wood.
There is a closely related drawing in the British Museum, London (1846,0509.204), which may be either a study for, or a copy after this work; a pastiche in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, copies the left side of the composition, adopting a figure from Ter Borch's An Officer Dictating a Letter while a Trumpeter Waits (National Gallery of Art, Washington). Ter Borch himself later returned to the theme in, for example, A Young Woman Playing a Theorbo to Two Men of about 1667–68 (National Gallery, London).
[2010; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Willem Lormier, The Hague (by 1752, sold to Lormier for fl. 160); his sister, L. Lormier, Rotterdam (by 1754; cat., 1754, no. 296); agent of Willem Lormier (until 1763; his sale, The Hague, July 4, 1763, no. 285, for fl. 420 to Cocq); Abel François Poisson, marquis de Vandières, later marquis de Marigny, still later marquis de Ménars, Paris (until d. 1781; his estate sale, Basan & Joullain, Paris, March 18–April 6, 1782, no. 108, for Fr 1,900 to Le Brun); [Jean Baptiste Pierre Le Brun, Paris, from 1782]; Charles d'Arverley, Paris (bequeathed to Calonne); Charles-Alexandre da Calonne, Paris (by 1788–95; sale, Paris, April 21–30, 1788, no. 74, bought in; sale, Skinner & Dyke, London, March 23–28, 1795, no. 32); William Wells, Redleaf, Kent (by 1829–at least 1876); Adolphe de Rothschild, London (in 1884; cat., 1884, no. 33); Francis Denzil Edward Baring, 5th Baron Ashburton, The Grange, Alresford, Hampshire and London (until 1907; sold to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1907]; [D. S. Hess & Co., New York, 1907–8; sold to Altman for $29,331.56, on January 23, 1908]; Benjamin Altman, New York (1908–d. 1913)
London. British Institution. June 1829, no. 37 (as "Lady Playing a Guitar and Cavalier," lent by William Wells).
London. British Institution. July 1832, no. 73 (as "Lady Singing," lent by William Wells).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1876, no. 81 (as "A Lady Singing," lent by William Wells).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
John Smith. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. Vol. 4, London, 1833, pp. 125–26, no. 25, as "A Lady Singing &c."; gives provenance.
C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 5, London, 1913, p. 50, no. 135, as "A Lady Playing the Lute".
"The Benjamin Altman Bequest." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 8 (November 1913), p. 236.
François Monod. "La Galerie Altman au Metropolitan Museum de New-York (2e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 5th ser., 8 (November 1923), p. 310, considers it a late work.
Connoisseur 77 (February 1927), ill. p. 117.
Handbook of the Benjamin Altman Collection. 2nd ed. New York, 1928, pp. 84–85, no. 45.
Margaret Breuning. "Metropolitan Re-Installs Its Treasures in Attractive Settings." Art Digest 18 (June 1, 1944), p. 6.
Eduard Plietzsch. Gerard ter Borch. Vienna, 1944, pp. 23–24, 53, fig. 87, compares the pose of the woman to that of a figure in Ter Borch's "Suitor's Visit" (National Gallery of Art, Washington).
Sturla J. Gudlaugsson. "De datering van de schilderijen van Gerard ter Borch." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek (1948–49), p. 248 n. 1, p. 263, no. 87, dates it about 1658.
S[turla]. J. Gudlaugsson. Gerard ter Borch. The Hague, 1959–60, vol. 1, pp. 113, 297, pl. 140; vol. 2, pp. 148–50, no. 140, dates it 1658–59 at the latest, suggesting it is a later work than "The Suitor's Visit" (see Plietzsch 1944); observes that the composition depends on an older formula, exemplified by a work of the Cologne painter J. Hulsman (Suermont Museum, Aachen, about 1640); believes the drawing in the British Museum to be a copy after the painting, used for the Ter Borch studio; calls a related painting attributed to Ter Borch (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden) a pastiche probably by Netscher; lists two copies after the work.
Franklin W. Robinson. "Gabriel Metsu, 1629–1667." PhD diss., Harvard University, 1970, p. 82.
Barbara Scott. "The Marquis de Marigny: A Dispenser of Royal Patronage." Apollo 97 (January 1973), pp. 28, 30, fig. 6, as owned by Marigny and later by Calonne.
John Walsh Jr. "Vermeer." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 31 (Summer 1973), unpaginated, fig. 34.
Christopher Brown. Images of a Golden Past: Dutch Genre Painting of the 17th Century. New York, 1984, p. 137, ill. p. 120.
Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, pp. 187–88.
Walter Liedtke. "Dutch Paintings in America: The Collectors and Their Ideals." Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1990, pp. 48–49, fig. 36, tentatively identifies it among the pictures seen in a photograph of Benjamin Altman's art gallery.
Neil MacLaren revised and expanded by Christopher Brown inThe Dutch School, 1600–1900. 2nd ed. London, 1991, vol. 1, p. 42, under no. 5847, comments that Ter Borch includes the same fireplace in "An Officer Dictating a Letter While a Trumpeter Waits" (National Gallery, London) and "Woman Sewing by a Cradle" (Nienhuys collection, Aerdenhout), as well as including a similar fireplace in other works.
Sylvia Jäkel-Scheglmann. Zum Lobe der Frauen: Untersuchungen zum Bild der Frau in der niederländischen Genremalerei des 17. Jahrhunderts. Munich, 1994, p. 99, fig. 102.
Hajo Düchting. Jan Vermeer van Delft im Spiegel seiner Zeit. Erlangen, 1996, pp. 57–58, ill.
Marjorie E. Wieseman. Caspar Netscher and Late Seventeenth-century Dutch Painting. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 2002, p. 352, under no. C71, records a "pastiche copy" in the Baroda Picture Gallery in India.
Marjorie E. Wieseman inGerard ter Borch. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2004, pp. 174, 176, fig. 1, under no. 48.
Andreas Rüfenacht inJohannes Vermeer: "Bei der Kupplerin". Ed. Uta Neidhardt and Marlies Giebe. Exh. cat., Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. Dresden, 2004, p. 90.
Adriaan Waiboer inSenses and Sins: Dutch Painters of Daily Life in the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Jeroen Giltaij. Exh. cat., Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany, 2004, p. 216, fig. 1.
Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 31–32, 70, fig. 32 (Altman gallery photograph).
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 67, 70–74, no. 15, colorpl. 15, fig. 14 (color detail); vol. 2, p. 871.