Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Judith Leyster, Golden Age Painter

Judith Leyster (died 10 February 1660)


Unlike many early-modern women artists, Judith Leyster did not follow in her father or brother's footsteps, training in their studios. (See, for example, two we have already noted, Elisabetta Sirani and Maria Sibylla Merian.) How and why Leyster became an artist and where she received her training are unknown. She had enough of a reputation by 1627 to be mentioned in a description of the city of her birth, Harlaam, but her first signed painting is dated to 1629. By 1633, she was a member of the Harlaam Guild of St. Luke, the first female painter registered as a member of the guild. Records show that Leyster herself took on the training of apprentices and, along with her husband, another painter, operated a studio in Harlaam and in Amsterdam.

Judith Leyster, Self Portrait (1633), perhaps
her submission piece to the Harlaam Guild
The number of paintings attributed to Leyster ranges from 20 to 35. Almost all of her work was produced between 1629 and 1636, the date of her marriage. Only a few works can be dated after her marriage--during the time when she had five children. 

The lovely Blompotje (Flowers in a Vase), below, was recently identified as a work by Leyster, dated to 1654. According to art historian Frima Fox Hofrichter, 
Many art historians have often assumed that Judith Leyster gave up painting upon her marriage. With the discovery of the flower still life and its date of 1654, we now have documentation that she continued her career as a painter. It is likely that Leyster moved to still-lives and botanical studies after her marriage, perhaps to split the market with her husband, Jan Miense Molenaer.
You might be interested in this wonderful book on Leyster and her work by Pieter Biesboer and James Welu, Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World. And of course there is Frima Fox Hofrichter's Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter in Holland's Golden Age. (Yikes! It's very expensive--interlibrary loan?)

Germaine Greer's The Obstacle Race contains an excellent discussion and analysis of Leyster, about whose life and work she notes: "The most remarkable case of a disappearing oeuvre (until the next one comes along) is probably that of Judith Leyster." Leyster's name and knowledge of her work may have begun to be forgotten or "eclipsed" as early as the date of her marriage; her work was also misattributed to the painter Franz Hals, among others, despite the fact that Leyster signed her work. As Greer notes, "If Judith Leyster had not been in the habit of signing her work with the monogram JL attached to a star, . . . her works might never have been reattributed to her" (136).


Blompotje [Flowers in a Vase] (1654)
recently identified as a work
by Judith Leyster