According to Houbraken, Caspar Netscher was born around 1639. His parents were the sculptor Johann Netscher (d. 1639) from Stuttgart and Elizabeth Vetter, daughter of a Heidelberg burgermeister.1 Johan’s father is said to have worked at the court in Heidelberg and Prague. Johann died shortly before Caspar’s birth. His widow, fearing the dangers of the Thirty Years’ War that was then still raging, fled the region and after many peregrinations finally settled with her children in Arnhem. She died soon thereafter, and Arnold Tulleken, the local doctor, took Caspar in. Tulleken initially gave the boy a medical education, but when Caspar displayed a propensity for drawing, Tulleken apprenticed him to the Arnhem painter Hendrik Coster (ca. 1620–64).2
Thanks to the mediation of “Wynant Everwyn, who was a cousin of Ter Borch,” Netscher entered the workshop of Gerard ter Borch (1617–81) in Deventer around 1655.3 Here he received the second part of his training, and mastered Ter Borch’s refined style to perfection. He subsequently stayed on as an assistant until about 1659. In Deventer Netscher painted the portrait of Christine van der Wart (1620–66), wife of the Arnhem draper Willem Craeyvanger (1615/16–after 1666). This is one of Netscher’s earliest portraits and the pendant of the portrait Craeyvanger had earlier commissioned from Paulus Lesire in The Hague.4 In the years that followed, Ter Borch’s workshop also turned out eight individual portraits of the couple’s children, now in The Leiden Collection, with Netscher and his teacher being responsible for four each.5 In addition to portraits, Netscher painted genre scenes in which he repeated, sometimes with minor adjustments, works by his teacher. Striking in this respect is that he signed these copies and variants himself, suggesting that he had a privileged position in Ter Borch’s workshop.6
According to Houbraken, upon completing his training under Ter Borch, Netscher went to Holland to work for art dealers. If he, in fact, left Deventer, he did so around 1658.7 Dissatisfied with his situation, Netscher decided to travel to Rome. His journey, however, took him no farther than Bordeaux, where he fell in love with Margaretha Godyn (d. 1694), whom he married in November 1659.8 Having worked in Bordeaux for some time, he came into contact with Marinus de Jeude, a wealthy art lover and collector who persuaded him to return to the Dutch Republic. Netscher settled in The Hague in 1662, and joined the local painters’ confraternity Pictura in the same year.
In The Hague, Netscher painted portraits, genre scenes and history pieces. He was in the habit of making drawings of his finished work, a number of which have been preserved.9 On these so-called ricordi he noted information such as the prices, names of his patrons, and annotations regarding composition and color. From these notations it appears that Netscher’s work did not initially fetch high prices. He received 66 guilders for a Vertumnus and Pomona in 1664, and 50 guilders for a portrait of a woman in 1667.
Netscher was one of the few genre painters in the court city. Evidently, this kind of painting did not find immediate favor with the internationally oriented elite. The artist excelled primarily in depictions of just one or a few figures absorbed in simple everyday activities. A splendid example of this is the Lace Maker, which demonstrates the artist’s fine eye for detail as well as his remarkable skill in the rendering of textures, in particular shimmering silk.10
Probably because he could not support his family with genre paintings alone, Netscher increasingly turned to portraiture, meeting with great success. If in his genre scenes Netscher continued to model his work on that of Ter Borch, in his portraits he drew on French examples. In this choice, not only did he distinguish himself from flourishing Hague colleagues, such as Adriaan Hanneman (ca. 1604–71) and Jan Mijtens (ca. 1614–70), but he also cleverly played into the growing interest in small, less formal portraits displaying a refined elegance. Netscher generally situated his sitters before a background of sumptuous draperies with a view of a parklike landscape. His clients came from the Hague patriciate, as well as circles around the city’s court and the diplomatic world. Netscher received commissions from outside The Hague as well, primarily Amsterdam, where he portrayed burgomaster Cornelis Bicker (1592–1654) and members of the Six family. He also enjoyed international renown and regularly welcomed high-ranking visitors in his Hague workshop. Cosimo III de’ Medici (1642–1723), for instance, bought a number of copies after works by Ter Borch from him around 1668–69.
Netscher was highly productive, even when he was plagued by bouts of gout and confined to his bed. He only stopped working on 15 January 1684, according to Houbraken, “when this affliction affected his bowls, and caused his death.”11 When Margaretha Godyn died in 1694, having married again three years after Netscher’s death, an inventory was drawn up of her possessions, which included many works by her first husband.12 Her estate bears witness to a certain affluence, and her inventory can be considered a posthumous reflection of Netscher’s prosperous career.13 The artist’s three sons followed in his footsteps, the most gifted of whom was Theodorus (1661–1728).14