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Gerard ter Borch, An Officer dictating a Letter

Key facts
Full title An Officer dictating a Letter
Artist Gerard ter Borch
Artist dates 1617 - 1681
Date made about 1655-8
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 74.5 × 51 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Mrs M. V. James from the Arthur James collection, 1948
Inventory number NG5847
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
An Officer dictating a Letter
Gerard ter Borch

A young officer dictates a letter to another soldier. Meanwhile their comrade – in the impressive blue jerkin – stares directly out of the painting. He’s a messenger, waiting to deliver the letter. His faintly amused expression and the way he catches our eye creates a conspiratorial air: there’s something he seems to want to share with us.

Ter Borch originally included a clue for us, but then changed his mind. After nearly 400 years the paint has faded to reveal a playing card on the floor by the dog’s leg. It’s the ace of hearts. This would have almost certainly been interpreted as a reference to romance, and a clear suggestion that it’s not a vital military message being drafted, but a love letter. By painting out the card, ter Borch made the situation much more mysterious.

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