Women Painting Themselves pt 4

Hello! Today we’re finally going to expand our geographical horizons by a tiny bit* and talk about Judith Leyster.

Judith Leyster 1609-1660

What I really like about Judith’s portrait is how she managed to make it look so spontaneous and full of personality. Before we had cameras with fast shutter speeds, holding any sort of expression other than a neutral glower long enough to capture it was not an easy task. This is another painting that I suspect was probably done from several quick preparatory sketches that were later combined, rather than painted entirely in front of a mirror.

I don’t care how tidy you are, there’s no way someone could paint in that large ruff without dragging that expensive lace all through the paint, ruining both your clothing and the painting. But a realistic portrait of the day-to-day life of the artist in her studio wasn’t the point–it’s showing off how awesome and successful she is (soooo fancy), to impress clients to buy her work, and potential students to join her studio.

Unlike the previous four artists, Judith was not Italian**, but was from northern Europe, probably somewhere around Amsterdam. Many of the details of her life have been lost to time, but by ~1629 she was in Utrecht. She entered Haarlem’s Guild of Saint Luke for artists in 1633. This allowed her to start up her own studio and take on pupils.

Judith got married in 1639 at at age 27 to a fellow artist, and seems to have painted little after this point. I can’t help but wonder if problems with authentication/missing art compound this impression. There have been problems confusing Judith’s art with that of her associate (possibly teacher, and/or family friend and/or rival, it’s not clear) Frans Hals due to similarities in style, and this is pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if there’s been paintings that have been misattributed to other people that Judith made later in life, that art historians assumed couldn’t be hers because of COURSE she stopped when she got married. And look, unless the painter wrote very clearly on the front “I, Full Name, made this”*** figuring out who painted what from the style alone and the distance of several hundred years is tricky. Sophonisba, Lavinia, and Artemisia all married and kept their careers afterwards, so I don’t think it should be assumed that just because there’s only on painting dating from after 1639 that’s attributed to Judith, that’s ALL that she ever painted while married.


*At least we’ve finally gotten off the Iberian Peninsula, but yeah. Once we get to the 19th century the selection does get a bit more diverse than Western Europe/white America but if anyone knows of someone earlier who I’m missing, please let me know.

**Alright, here’s the thing. I realize that referring to the area now Italy/people from said area as Italy/Italian when talking about said area in, oh, say, 1600 is convenient and that pretty much every history textbook does it. BUT, the unification of Italy didn’t happen until 1870 and I didn’t clue in to this until I was out of college because of every single history book referring to the area that’s modern Italy as Italy, always. For example, check out this map.

***And that it doesn’t get painted over by some helpful soul later. Also, there is art forgery to confuse the issue.


SOURCES AND ADDITIONAL INFO: This site has the most information about her life that I’ve been able to find. It’s still not a lot. Note the point about the attribution problems.

Celia Yost

Celia Yost is a graphic artist and painter by both training and trade. She's also prone to ill-advised craft projects and yelling about politics.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button