The Artist Judith Leyster

Judith Jans Leyster was born in Haarlem, Netherlands in 1609. As a woman, her position as a painter during the Dutch Golden Age is unusual; during this period there were only two other significant female artists. In any case, art historians believe that Leyster was popular during her lifetime, though she was largely forgotten until the Louvre discovered a painting by her in 1893 which had previously been attributed to another painter. Today, only about thirty paintings have been attributed to Leyster, but they have served to cement her fame today as a Dutch master.

Little is known of Leyster’s early life and training. She was the eighth child of a brewer and clothmaker, Jan Willemsz Leyster. Apparently, she was known for her painting during her teenage years as she was mentioned in a 1621 publication by Samuel Ampzing. There are theories regarding her training but little can be known conclusively. One theory suggests that Leyster was the student or apprentice of the artist Frans Hals. Their work is very similar and they were known to one another. In fact, when the Louvre discovered Leyster’s painting in 1893, her signature had been covered up by an art dealer with Hals’s signature.

It is known that Leyster sued Hals at one point in Haarlem as records indicate. After three days of study, Leyster’s apprentice left her to study with Hals and she sued over fees winning some portion back. In any case, scholars believe Leyster did most of her painting before her marriage to the artist Jan Miense Molenaer in 1636. Molenaer painted more prolifically than Leyster, but art critics find his skill owing in comparison to hers. The couple had five children—only two survived into adulthood. Before marrying, Leyster became a member of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke—a rare occurrence for a woman at this time. After her marriage, the couple moved to Amsterdam and eventually Heemstede.

Scholars have found only two of Leyster’s works that date after 1635—an illustration of a tulip (1643) and a portrait (1652). Most of her work dates between 1629 and 1635. Her paintings often depict quiet domestic scenes. Some of her best-known works and masterpieces include Serenade (1629), Self-Portrait (1630), The Happy Couple (1630), The Concert (1633), and Man Offering Money to a Young Woman (1633). Leyster died at the age of fifty in 1660. Known for her portraits, genre paintings, and a still life, Leyster was respected as a talented artist during her lifetime. Today her work is revered and Leyster is regarded as a major talent of the Dutch Golden Age.