Gerard ter Borch’s renown is based on his painted genre scenes and portraits, of which the refined mise-en-scène, sophisticated use of colour and exquisite execution rank among the finest in Dutch seventeenth-century art. His pictures can now be found in many of the major public collections between Los Angeles and Saint Petersburg, and between Copenhagen and Madrid, and have spread his fame widely (A.K. Wheelock, Jr., Gerard ter Borch, exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art, and Detroit Institute of Arts, 2004-2005). The vast majority of his drawings, however, are preserved at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, after the acquisition in 1886 of a large group of drawings by Ter Borch, his father and his siblings from direct descendants of the family, affording a unique and often informal view of the different artists’ artistic education, development and range. In total, about 150 sheets survive by Gerard the Younger (including over 50 landscapes in a sketchbook), of which only fewer than thirty can be found outside the Rijksprentenkabinet, and fewer than ten in private hands (for a nearly complete overview of his drawings, see McNeil Kettering, op. cit.). One of these, representing a Carriage in a landscape, was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. 1995.248; see ibid., II, p. 820, no. 11, ill.). A recent addition to the corpus of Ter Borch’s drawings is one donated with the Peck Collection to the Ackland Museum of Art in Chapel Hill (inv. 2017.1.9; previously at Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, 10 November 1998, lot 44).
For only a surprisingly small number of these drawings parallels exist within Ter Borch’s painted œuvre. Indeed, most sheets are unrelated to the genre scenes and portraits on which his fame as a painter is based, and they subtly extend our understanding of the artist’s world and imagination. This certainly applies to the present example, which belongs to a handful of finished market scenes by the artist, in which a busy group of men and women is set against the backdrop of a townscape. Apart from the present drawing, the others are a sheet previously in the Klaver collection, Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, 10 May 1994, lot 45; and drawings at the Rijksprentenkabinet, inv. RP-T-1887- A-825, RP-T-1953-219; the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, inv. KdZ 2610, KdZ 4277; the Teylers Museum, Haarlem, inv. P* 19; and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, inv. G.T. Borch 1 (McNeil Kettering, op. cit., I, no. GJr 38, ill., II, Appendix I, pp. 820-830, nos. 13, 17, 18, 23, 31, ill.; Plomp, op. cit., no. 65, ill.). To these can also be added a recently reattributed drawing at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art in Moscow (inv. 4722), which depicts two figures skinning a pig in a courtyard (Rubinstein, op. cit., passim, fig. 1).
In the background of the drawing in Haarlem the city’s town hall can be recognized; and one of the two drawings in Berlin – a nightscene – appears to represent part of the exterior of the Grote Kerk there. This, and the year 1634 inscribed in an old hand on the Berlin sheet just mentioned allow us to date the market scenes during the two years Ter Borch spent in Haarlem as an apprentice to the landscapist Pieter de Molijn, before becoming a member of the Guild of Saint Luke in 1635 (McNeil Kettering, op. cit., I, pp. 88-89, 114, under no. GJr 38). In addition, a further four much more rapidly drawn market scenes by Ter Borch in Amsterdam are inscribed ‘P.D. Molyn 1634’ (inv. RP-T-1883- A-1134, RP-T-1883-A-1141, RP-T-1883-A-1144, RP-T-1883-A-1145; see McNeil Kettering, op. cit., I, nos. GJr 47-GJr-50, ill.), and these may record compositions by his teacher, such as a painting sold Christie’s, London, 8 November 1999, lot 54 (A.E. Waiboer, Northern Nocturnes. Nightscapes in the Age of Rembrandt, exhib. cat., Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, 2005, no. 19, ill.). The group of finished market scenes, where the crowd are depicted closer up, must be of his own invention, and the delightful detail and lively style, with black chalk accents to bring relief in the different groups of people, is entirely his. The fact that the present drawing and nearly all other larger market scenes were not part of the Ter Borch estate acquired by the Rijksmuseum in 1886 can be taken as an indication that these drawings were produced as independent works of art to be sold or given away to art lovers.