Judith Leyster

Judith Leyster

Leyster, Judith, 1609-60, painter of Holland's 17th-century "golden age," one of the few women artists prior to the late 19th cent. whose work has been recognized. She is thought to have studied with Frans Hals and was one of only two 17th-century women granted membership (1633) in Haarlem's prestigious painters guild, the Guild of St. Luke. Leyster had her own workshop and took on students. Her known oeuvre consists of approximately 20 paintings: portraits, particularly striking portrayals of musicians and merrymakers; various genre scenes; and perhaps her best-known work, a lively, engaging self portrait (c.1632-33; National Gall. of Art, Washington, D.C.). Leyster's paintings feature dynamic brushwork, bright color, and an unusually dramatic use of light and shadow. She married (1636) the painter Jan Miense Molenaer (c.1610-68); only two known paintings date from after her marriage. Virtually forgotten after her death, she was rediscovered in the 1890s.

See illustrated catalog ed. by P. Biesboer and J. A. Welu (1993); study by F. F. Hofrichter (1989).

Judith Jans Leyster (also Leijster) (July 28 1609February 10, 1660) was a Dutch artist who worked in a various fields, including genre subjects, portraits and still lifes.


Leyster was born in Haarlem as the eighth child of Jan Willemsz Leyster, a local brewer and clothmaker. While the details of her training are uncertain, in her teens she was well enough known to be mentioned in a Dutch book by Samuel Ampzing titled Beschrijvinge ende lof der stadt Haerlem, originally written in 1621, revised in 1626-27, and published in 1628.

By 1633, she was a member of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke, one of only two women (the other was a house painter) who gained entrance into the group. Within two years of her entry into the guild, she had taken on three male apprentices. Records show that Leyster sued Frans Hals for stealing one of her students who had left her workshop, for that of Hals, not three days after he arrived. The student's mother paid Leyster 4 guilders in punitive damages, only half of what Leyster asked for, and, instead of returning her apprentice, Hals settled the due by paying a 3 guilder fine. Leyster was also fined for not having registered the apprentice with the Guild.

In 1636, she married Jan Miense Molenaer, a more prolific, though less talented, artist of similar subjects. In hopes of better economic prospects, they moved to Amsterdam, where the art market was far more stable. They remained there for eleven years; they had five children, only two of which survived to adulthood. They eventually moved to Heemstede where in 1660 Leyster died at the age of 50. In Heemstede they shared a studio in a small house that no longer exists, but was located on the grounds of the present-day Groenendaal park.

Most of Leyster's dated works are from 1629-1635, which coincides with the period before she had children. There are only two known pieces painted after 1635; two illustrations in a book about tulips from 1643 and a portrait from 1652.

Although well known during her lifetime and esteemed by her contemporaries, Leyster and her work were largely forgotten after her death. Leyster's rediscovery came in 1893. The Louvre had purchased a Frans Hals only to find it had been in fact painted by Judith Leyster. A dealer had changed the monogram that she used as a signature. Art historians since that period have often dismissed her as an imitator or follower of Hals, although this attitude has changed somewhat in the last few years.

Leyster and Frans Hals

The nature of Leyster's professional relationship with Hals is unclear; she may have been his student or else a friendly colleague. She may have been a witness at the baptism of Hals' daughter Maria in the early 1630s, since a Judith Jans was recorded as such, but there were other Judith Janses in Haarlem. There is no documented evidence of Judith Leyster's apprenticeship under Frans Hals, even though much of Leyster's work, such as the Merry Drinker from 1629 (now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam), has a very strong resemblance to The Jolly Drinker of 1627-28 by Hals (also in the Rijksmuseum). Some historians have asserted that Hals must have been Leyster's teacher due to the close similarity between their work.

Her work

Leyster was particularly innovative in her domestic genre scenes. In them, she creates quiet scenes of women at home, which were not a popular theme in Holland until the 1650s. Much of her other work was similar in nature to that of many of her contemporaries, such as Hals, Ultrecht Caravagisti, Hendrick Terbrugghen, Gerrit van Honthorst, and Jan Steen; such genre paintings, generally of taverns and other scenes of entertainment, catered to the tastes and interests of a growing segment of the Dutch middle class.

See also


  • Chadwick, Whitney, Women, Art, and Society, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990
  • "Leyster, Judith" in Gaze, Delia, ed. Dictionary of Women Artists. 2 vols. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
  • Harris, Anne Sutherland and Linda Nochlin, Women Artists: 1550-1950, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Knopf, New York, 1976
  • Broersen, Ellen, 'Judita Leystar': A Painter of 'Good, Keen Sense', from Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World, Yale University, 1993

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