We are undoubtedly in a rich middle class residence of Holland in the 17th century. The furniture is comfortable, and the carpet which covers the table was brought from some distant land of the East by one of those Dutch ships which, at that time, traveled all the seas of the globe. Terburg (Gerard ter Borch) had interpreted this opulent life; he had penetrated into the intimacy of those wealthy merchants who joined, to a perfect understanding of affairs and a very developed practical sense, a marked taste for good food, for the well-being of their interiors, for the rich stuffs. It is, indeed, of solid and beautiful satin that are woven the clothes of the two young women represented here.
This small scene of the Concert is of a natural and a charming fantasy. Sitting on a low chair in red velvet, one of the girls sings a tune of music which she carefully follows the notes on an open sheet in front of her. With the right hand she beats the measure. His face is framed by blond hair well drawn, gathered in a bun on the top of the head and falling in curls on the temples. Without being beautiful, it has the blooming freshness that gives the youth and the bright complexion of the vigorous girls of the North. Even more robust is the companion who, standing near the table, pinches the viol of his agile fingers. Behind the cantatrice comes a little lackey with a glass on a tray. Under his left arm he holds the broad-brimmed hat he took off before entering.
Terburg is, without a doubt, the best of the little Dutch masters of the beautiful period. With less fancy than Jean Steen and less meticulous precision than Gerard Dow, he prevails over them by the amicable kindness of the composition, by the naturalness of his characters and especially by the firmness of the drawing. Like all the painters of the Dutch school, he instinctively possesses the difficult science of color, and he manipulates chiaroscuro with an art which one is surprised to see lavish for such small scenes, so insignificant could one say. But are there insignificant scenes in painting? Whatever the smallness of the subject, the talent of the artist can raise it to the level of the highest compositions, if he realizes the problem to interest us and if it deploys the qualities of the great painting. This secret, Terburg, possessed it in the highest degree. Not only does he introduce us into the familiar life of Holland and make us understand it, but he also obliges us to marvel at the superior means he uses to achieve it. In this seemingly banal scene of the Concert, he combines simplicity with science: values are distributed with infinite art and the color is distributed with perfect harmony. It’s better than an anecdote, it’s a page of privacy, scrupulously observed and spiritually told.
For a long time these delightful painters have been treated with disdain, and the title of little masters given to them implied a sort of pejorative classification. A legitimate reaction has taken place, and nowadays these paintings, once despised, are very well sold. And it is true, for these masters of the Dutch and Flemish school, if they did not embarrass themselves with much ideal, at least professed a true worship for the exact translation of nature.
“For them,” writes Théophile Gautier, “a silver vase is as true as a pitcher of sandstone, a rose is no less real than a cabbage, and if there are smoked cabarets, with yellow windows, and plenty of rustic drinkers, there is no lack of beautiful interiors with large marble columns fireplaces, velvet armchairs, tables covered with Turkish rugs, Bohemian leather hangings, Venice mirrors shimmering in the shadows, where beautiful ladies in satin skirts, in velvet jackets, make music, listen to gallant proposals or advance their hand to a long glass paw a page filled with wine from the Canaries. Terburg is one of those who love to reveal this sumptuous Dutch life, so calm, so rested, so comfortable. His characters are frank with pace and movement; they lived and they still live thanks to the magic art of the painter. Terburg expresses, with a broad and fine touch at the same time, the faces, the clothes, the furniture and the accessories. It makes better than anybody the luminous breaks and the moiré shadows of the satin; so he is not stingy with this stuff and gives it a skirt to almost all the women he represents. Terburg, a rare thing among the painters of his country, knew how to make young and graceful women in their rosy Dutch pallor, on which floats the transparent shade of the long blond curls. As she is charming, with her naive air, her headdress in knots of ribbons, her straw-yellow coat and her white satin skirt, the concert musician who sings and beats the measure!”
The Concert was already part of the old national collection, created by Louis XIV. Let us add that the author of the Concert is also known as Terborch or Ter Borch, of which Terburg, the most usual form, would be only a corruption.
Height: 0.47 – Width: 0.43 – Figures: 0.30.