Through some remarkable combination of circumstance and personal strength, the work of Judith Leyster was not lost to us; as must have been the case with countless potential women artists who were denied the opportunity to even pick up a brush by centuries of restrictive social convention.
Leyster was active in Harrlem and Amsterdam in the first half of the 17th Century. She painted still life, portraits and genre scenes; particularly domestic scenes of women, a subject which she effectively pioneered. Many of her works feature dramatic lighting, and have a visible light source in the painting, an unusual practice at the time.
It’s presumed because of stylistic similarities that she was a student of Frans Hals, to whom much of her work was attributed for many years, including the image above, top, Serenade. To have had her work mistaken for that of Hals is a testament to her skill.
She also showed the influence of the Utrecht painters who took their inspiration from Caravaggio . She married painter Jan Miense Molenaer, whose work she easily outshone, and shared a studio with him, along with models and props found in both of their paintings.
The image above, bottom left, is a self portrait. Like most artists’ self portraits at the time, it was essentially a demonstration of her skill and an advertisement for her abilities as a portraitist.
This work is in the collection of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., where it is currently the centerpiece of a show celebrating Leyster’s 400th birthday, Judith Leyster 1609-1660. The exhibition runs until November 29, 2009.
There is a click-thgough slideshow (accompanied by period music) on the national Gallery site.
Leyster’s active career was short, truncated by her duties as a mother, but at least we have her oeuvre as it stands.