This serious-looking woman is Hermanna van der Cruis. She was married to Abraham van Suchtelen, who held many posts in national and local government in the Netherlands. The portrait was probably made in the second half of the 1660s, when Hermanna was about 50, a wealthy widow and respected in the upper circles of local society.
Ter Borch had introduced this type of full-length, small-scale portrait in the 1640s while travelling and painting in many parts of Europe. By setting figures against a dark, unfussy background and by using strong blocks of colour to contrast with the black and white clothing that was fashionable at the time, he created arresting compositions highlighting what was important to his clients: the sitters' faces and how they were dressed. Ter Borch was particularly admired for his ability to capture the soft textures of expensive gauze, satin and velvet such as we see here.
This serious-looking woman is Hermanna van der Cruis (1615–1705). She was married to Abraham van Suchtelen, who was appointed burgomaster (mayor) of Deventer, a prosperous town, 100 km east of Amsterdam, in 1646. By the time he died in 1661, he was a member of the Dutch parliament. This portrait was probably painted in the second half of the 1660s, when Hermanna was about 50. She did not remarry and would almost certainly have been a wealthy widow, and would have commanded respect in the upper circles of Deventer society.
Had her husband still been alive, the couple most likely would have commissioned two pendant portraits, and she would probably have been portrayed in the right-hand painting, turning towards her husband on her right – not as here, turned to her left.
Hermanna liked the painting well enough to commission three versions. One is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, and differs from the others in that it includes a simple still life of fruit, a goblet and a jug on the table. The third (now in a private collection) is extremely similar to our portrait and has her name inscribed on the reverse of the canvas. It was probably painted a little later because her gauze collar is rather shorter, reflecting a later fashion.
Ter Borch had introduced this type of full-length, small-scale portrait in the 1640s, while travelling and painting in many parts of Europe. It seems to have remained popular for at least two decades, especially in Deventer, where he settled after his marriage in 1654. By setting his figures against a dark, unfussy background and using strong blocks of colour to contrast with the black and white clothing fashionable at the time, he created arresting compositions which highlighted what was important to his clients: the faces of the sitters and how they were dressed. Though conservative in colour, the clothes of wealthy people were an important status symbol; ter Borch was particularly admired for his ability to capture soft textures such as the expensive gauze, satin and velvet we see in this portrait. The setting here – the velvet-covered table, a gold-tasselled chair – seems to have been particularly popular. He uses the same props in other portraits, including Portrait of a Young Man.
Some art historians believe that ter Borch’s full-length portraits – with their clear colour contrasts, spare backgrounds, and focus on the surface of rich fabrics – may have been influenced by Diego Velázquez, court painter to the Spanish king and one of the most famous artists in Europe at the time. This might be possible; there’s evidence that ter Borch travelled to Spain. But Velázquez, who was painting royal portraits for royal palaces, usually worked on a much larger scale and liked to fill the picture frame with a life-size figure. Ter Borch adapted his style to the smaller scale parlours and living rooms of his rather less prestigious clients.
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