11. Moses ter Borch

Zwolle 1645 – 1667 Harwich

Standing Figure

The talent of Moses ter Borch, the youngest of the family of artists from Zwolle, was unfortunately not allowed to flourish. Moses died at sea at the age of twenty-two, fighting with the Dutch fleet during the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-67). As an artist he had a lot to offer, and would probably have rivalled his half-brother Gerard ter Borch the Younger (see cat. 9), as can be seen from the many self-portraits he drew. Numerous emotions and expressions are captured in these striking images – from jolly to surly and conceited to aggrieved – so that we almost believe we know this young Moses personally.

Another group that confirms his talent as a draughtsman consists of figure studies of cabin boys and sailors; this standing figure is one of them. We know of around twenty drawings of these young men in black and red chalk that Moses probably made during his time in the navy.1 It is thought that Moses drew these lads by candlelight or by torchlight.2 The strong contrast between the carefully hatched shadows and the blank areas of the paper which catch the light – as in the knotted scarf around the neck – create true chiaroscuro. This is also easy to see in the model’s turned head and the boldly executed folds of his clothes.

As he did in five other studies in this group, Moses began by sketching this figure in black chalk. Afterwards he switched to red chalk, with which he deviated at some points (as in the boots) from the hesitant black lines. It is hard to determine whether he used a live model for this figure or copied an existing drawing he had previously done from life. On one rather crudely drawn figure study in this group his father Gerard the Elder noted that ‘Moses ter Borch drew it from life January 1660’,3 a careful fair copy of which is preserved in Berlin4. It is therefore not out of the question that a rougher sketch also preceded this figure.5

A number in pencil, like the 56 (?) below our model, occurs on most of the (mainly more resolved) studies in this group. This is why it was previously suggested that they were probably kept together in a sketchbook or album.6 Moses may have used this as ‘stock’, or perhaps to present to clients who could choose from the different models. After all, we can immediately imagine this boy in a genre scene (like the paintings by his brother Gerard), standing beside a roaring fire surrounded by other figures.


1McNeil Kettering 1988; among others in the Kupferstich-Kabinett, Dresden, inv. nos. C 1914-67, C 1914-79, C 1914-80 and C 1929-143; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. RP-T-1951-14; the Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie Graphische Sammlung, Frankfurt am Main, inv. no. 923, 924, 2916 and 2917; the Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo, inv. no. B 15733; the Fogg Art Museums, Cambridge, inv. no. 1.2018.292; the Kupferstichkabinett Staatliche Museen Berlin, inv. no. 11656; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Courtauld Gallery, London, inv. no. Witt Collection 2204; private collection, New York; others have recently come to the market, such as with Sotheby’s, 6 July 2005, lot. no. 152.

2Exh. cat. New York/Paris 1977-78, no. 15.

3Mosus ter Borch nae het leven geteijckent January 1660., Baltimore Museum of Art, see McNeil Kettering 1988, vol. 2, no. 50.

4Kupferstichkabinett Staatliche Museen Berlin, inv. no. 11656.

5See McNeil Kettering 1988, p. 287, ‘[…] it is possible that many, or even all, of the finished drawings were preceded by loose preparatory sketches.’

6Exh. cat. New York/Paris 1977-78, no. 15.