The Music Lesson (Musikalishe Unterhaltung)Artist(s)Caspar NetscherObject Creation Datecirca 1665Medium & Supportoil on panelDimensions
31 1/4 in. x 27 1/4 in. ( 79.38 cm x 69.22 cm )Credit LineGift from the Collection of Mr. & Mrs. HeydonLabel copy
In 2011 the Museum of Art received the gift of an important panel painting by the Dutch painter Caspar Netscher (born Germany, 1639?–1684). This very fine work is an important addition to UMMA’s holdings in Dutch painting and represents a genre not already present in the collections—the subject of music making in a domestic interior. Beginning around 1650, scenes of low-life pastimes, such as drinking and dancing in taverns, were replaced by more affluent and refined interior scenes; Netscher’s The Music Lesson reflects that transition. Here, four figures are shown in a dark but carefully constructed interior space: the man on the left plays a theorbo, an early bass lute, and accompanies the singing woman; seated at the far side of the table is another couple. Such domestic scenes from the middle of the seventeenth century reflect the sophisticated taste of Dutch consumers and the painting richly emphasizes the pleasures of the senses: the aural beauty of the music, the delicate qualities of light, and the textures of fabrics are depicted with a verisimilitude that seems to conjure up the physical world.
Netscher was the son of a German sculptor and trained in Arnhem with the still life painter Hendrick Coster (fl. 1638–1659) before studying with Gerard ter Borch (1617–1681). Ter Borch’s influence on Netscher’s style can be seen in the handling of the rich cream-colored satin of the seated woman’s dress, as well as in the delicately described but ambiguous psychological relationships between the figures. Netscher settled in The Hague by 1662, where he remained until his death.
The painting came to the United States from Vienna in the 1930s and was in the collection of UM Professor of English Language and Literature William A. Coles before Rita and Peter Heydon acquired it. The Heydons have long supported the Museum of Art and have donated several nineteenth-century works. They have also led the effort to find a period replacement frame for the University of Michigan’s portrait of President Angell by William Merritt Chase, on view near the Museum’s administrative offices.
UMMA Senior Curator of Western Art
The Music Lesson (Musikalische Unterhaltung)
Oil on panel
Gift from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Heydon, 2011/2.179Subject matter
The painting depicts an affluent and refined interior scene. Four figures are shown in a dark but carefully constructed interior space: the man on the left plays a theorbo, an early bass lute, and accompanies the singing woman; seated at the far side of the table is another couple. The painting richly emphasizes the pleasures of the senses: the aural beauty of the music, the delicate qualities of light, and the textures of fabrics are depicted with a verisimilitude that seems to conjure up the physical world.Physical Description
A panel portrait of two men and two women. One man plays a mandolin while the other watches one of the women. The woman he is watching is standing by the table and holding a dog. The second woman is sitting next to the mandolin player and reading.Primary Object Classification Painting Primary Object TypeportraitAdditional Object Classification(s)PaintingRights
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Dutch (culture or style)
genre (visual works)
men (male humans)
oil paintings (visual works)
panel paintings (paintings by form)
stringed instruments (musical instruments)
women (female humans)