Sunday, October 30, 2016

1609-1660: Judith Leyster, Dutch

Self Portrait, 1630
National Gallery, D.C.
Photo by Jan Looper Smith
Judith Leyster was a successful painter during the Dutch Golden Age, when some of the most beloved old masters were working. She was a major figure in the bustling art scene in Haarlem, even though Frans Hals, about 30 years her senior, was still working there. She had a particular strength in genre pictures, that is scenes of everyday life, as opposed to religious or mythological themes.

For all the acclaim granted Judith Leyster during her lifetime, she almost vanished from memory after her death. Her works were attributed to Hals, or to her husband, who was also a well-known painter, or to "unknown." In 1893, a painting acquired by the Louvre was found to have Leyster’s distinctive monogram (her initials entwined with a five-pointed star) hidden under a false signature reading “Frans Hals.” This discovery led to renewed research and appreciation of Leyster's oeuvre; today as many as 35 works are recognized as hers,

Background: Judith was born in Haarlem, the last of eight children. Her father operated a brewery called the “Ley-ster” (lode or guide star) from which the family took its name.

Training: How Judith got her training is not known. As an adult she was acquainted with Frans Hals, but whether as a student or a colleague is not known. It is clear that she studied and adapted his style and some of his subjects.

Career: By her mid-twenties, Judith was a professional artist in her hometown of Haarlem, with her own studio and three male students. Leyster was one of only two women accepted as a master in Haarlem’s painters’ guild during the entire 17th century. There were more women active at that time as painters in Haarlem, but since they worked in family workshops they did not need the professional qualifications to sign works or run a workshop.

Most of Judith's work dates from 1629-1635—she was 20 to 26—before she was married. The short term of her career makes it all the more remarkable.

Private Life: In 1636 Leyster married Jan Miense Molenaer, a more prolific and more famous artist of similar subjects. In the next eleven years they had 5 children—2 of whom survived to adulthood—and Judith painted very little, although she may have worked collaboratively with her husband.

Here's a link to examples of work by Jan Miense Molenaer

Judith died in 1660 aged fifty.

Wikiart has 22 of Judith's 35 known works: Judith Leyster

Our photos of Judith's work:

The Serenade, 1629
Riksmuseum / Jan's photo, 2015

Man Offering Money to a Young Woman, 1631
Mauritshuis / Jan's photo, 2015

Portrait of an Unknown Woman, 1635
Frans Hals / Jan's photo, 2015

The Gay Cavalier, c. 1639
Philadelphia / Jan's photo, 2012