Judith Leyster’s Self-Portrait exudes self-confidence in her abilities, and it has become one of the National Gallery of Art’s most popular Dutch paintings. Leyster has depicted herself at her easel, briefly interrupting work on a painting of a violin player to interact with the viewer. The momentary quality of the portrait and the vigorous brushwork echo the work of Frans Hals (c. 1582/1583–1666), Haarlem’s most celebrated portrait painter and Leyster’s colleague. By juxtaposing her hand holding a brush with the hand and bow of the violin player, Leyster cleverly compares the art of creating ephemeral music with the art of creating timeless paintings. She holds the tools of her trade—a palette, a cloth, and no fewer than eighteen brushes. In reality she would not have worn the elegant dress and lace-trimmed collar while at work in her studio.
Leyster entered into the Saint Luke’s Guild of Haarlem as an independent master in 1633. As a master in her own right, a rarity for a female artist at the time, Leyster established her own workshop and had paying students. Five years earlier, her proficiency and talent had already drawn public praise. A chronicler of Haarlem described Leyster, then only nineteen years old, as a painter of "good and keen insight." In the late 1640s, another city historian wrote that among the many women experienced in the field of painting, "one excels exceptionally, Judith Leyster, called ‘the true leading star’ in art." The compliment cleverly alludes to the artist’s family name, which means "lodestar." The artist herself incorporated a star in her professional signature, the monogram JL*. Following her marriage to fellow Haarlem artist Jan Miense Molenaer in 1636, Leyster stopped producing art in her own name but probably continued to paint in collaboration with, and in the workshop of, her husband.
As she turns from her painting of a violin player and gazes smilingly out at the viewer, Judith Leyster manages to assert, in the most offhanded way, that she has mastered a profession traditionally viewed as a masculine domain. Although women drew and painted as amateurs, a professional woman painter was a rarity in Holland in the seventeenth century. Leyster was quite a celebrity even before she painted this self-portrait in about 1630. Her proficiency, even at the tender age of nineteen, had been so remarkable that in 1628 Samuel Ampzing singled her out for praise in his Beschryvinge ende lof der stad Haerlem in Holland some five years before she appears to have become the first woman ever to be admitted as a master in the Haarlem Saint Luke’s Guild.
Samuel Ampzing, Beschrijvinge ende lof der stad Haerlem in Holland (Haarlem, 1628), 370, praises Leyster’s bold hand and mind in the context of a discussion of the De Grebber family, probably because Frans de Grebber’s daughter Maria (c. 1602–1680) was also a painter. The rarity of women artists is implicit in Ampzing’s rhetorical question concerning Maria: “Who ever saw a painting made by the hand of a daughter?” (“Wie sag oyt schilderij van eene dochtershand?”)
Theodorus Schrevelius, Harlemias, ofte, de eerst stichtinghe der stad Haarlem (Haarlem, 1648), 384–385. “Daer zyn ook veel Vrouwen gheweest in de Schilder-konst wel ervaren I die voornamelyck by onse tijdt noch vermaert zijn / die met de mans haer soude konnen versetten in de mael-konst / van welcke ceo insonderheydt uytmunt, JUDITH LEISTER, weleer genaemt / de rechte l..eyster inde konst.” The English translation has been taken from Frima Fox Hofrichter, Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter in Holland’s Golden Age (Doornspijk, 1989), 83. The reference to “the true leading star” is a pun on Leyster’s name; see Frima Fox Hofrichter, Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter in Holland’s Golden Age (Doornspijk, 1989), 13.
The young artist sits in a remarkably casual manner, with her right arm resting on the back of her chair. As she looks out at the viewer with one hand holding a brush and the other her palette, a large bundle of brushes, and a white painter’s cloth, it appears as though she has just been interrupted from her work. Indeed, Leyster has purposely left the figure of the violin player on the canvas in an unfinished state. Nevertheless, she is dressed in quite formal attire, inappropriate for an artist busy working. One could hardly imagine her painting while wearing such a firmly starched, broad, lace-trimmed collar.
The inconsistencies can be explained in the dichotomy that existed between the traditional iconography for artists’ self-portraits and the relatively new informal concept of portraiture that had developed in Haarlem in the 1620s through the influence of
Illustrated in Hans Joachim Raupp, Untersuchungen zu Künstlerbildnis und Künstlerdarstellung in den Niederlanden im 17. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim, 1984), 390, repro. 20.
Cesare Ripa, Iconologia of uytbeeldingen des verstands, trans. Dirck Pietersz Pers (Amsterdam, 1644), 259. “Konstigh en eedel wort hy gekleet, om dat de konst door haer selven eedel is, die men oock de tweede Natuyre kan heeten.” For a discussion of this type of self-portraiture, see Hans Joachim Raupp, Untersuchungen zu Künstlerbildnis und Künstlerdarstellung in den Niederlanden im 17. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim, 1984), 36–38.
See, for example, Hals’ Isaac Abrabamsz. Massa, 1626, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, illustrated in Seymour Slive, Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 2: pl. 64. Although the National Gallery of Art work was attributed to Judith Leyster in 1926, many scholars gave it to Frans Hals during the 1930s (see Exhibition History and Bibliography).
The exact date of this self-portrait is not known. Hofrichter has argued that Leyster executed it as a presentation piece at the time of her entry into the Haarlem Saint Luke’s Guild in 1633. The new regulations, which were established in 1631, required that each new master present to the guild “a painting two feet large” as testimony of skill.
Frima Fox Hofrichter, “Judith Leyster’s ‘Self-Portrait’: ‘Ut Pictura Poesis,’” in Essays in Northern European Art Presented to Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann on His Sixtieth Birthday, ed. Anne-Marie Logan (Doornspijk, 1983), 106–109. For the guild regulations, see Ed Taverne, “Salomon de Bray and the Reorganization of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke in 1631,” Simiolus 6 (1972–1973): 52.
A similar style collar is seen in family portraits of the late 1620s, such as Pieter de Grebber’s Family Portrait at a Meal, 1625 (Stedelijk Museum, Alkmaar); Paulus Bor’s Portrait of the Family Van Vanevelt, 1628 (Sint Pietersen Blokland Gasthuis, Amersfoort); and Andries van Bochoven’s The Artist and His Family, 1629 (Centraal Museum, Utrecht). These paintings are illustrated in Eddy de Jongh, Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw (Haarlem, 1986), nos. 72, 74, 75.
For example, Young Flute Player; see Frima Fox Hofrichter, Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter in Holland’s Golden Age (Doornspijk, 1989), no. 38.
Leyster did not initially plan to paint the violin player on the canvas, but rather a portrait of a woman, whose face is visible in an infrared photograph and with
A photographic or digital image analysis method which captures the absorption/emission characteristics of reflected infrared radiation. The absorption of infrared wavelengths varies for different pigments, so the resultant image can help distinguish the pigments that have been used in the painting or underdrawing.
See, for example, Catharina van Hemessen’s Self-Portrait of 1548 in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Basel; illustrated in Hans Joachim Raupp, Untersuchungen zu Künstlerbildnis und Künstlerdarstellung in den Niederlanden im 17. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim, 1984), 390, repro. 20.
As suggested by Frima Fox Hofrichter, “Judith Leyster’s ‘Self-Portrait’: ‘Ut Pictura Poesis,’” in Essays in Northern European Art Presented to Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann on His Sixtieth Birthday, ed. Anne-Marie Logan (Doornspijk, 1983), 107.
For a discussion of the symbolic implications of the violin player, see Hans Joachim Raupp, Untersuchungen zu Künstlerbildnis und Künstlerdarstellung in den Niederlanden im 17. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim, 1984), 346–347.
This painting, which is not signed, was long attributed to Frans Hals, in large part because Leyster’s own artistic personality was only rediscovered in 1893.
See Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, “Judith Leyster,” Jahrbuch der Königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 14 (1893): 190–198, 232.
Gerrit David Gratama, “Het portret van Judith Leyster door Frans Hals,” Oud-Holland 47 (1930): 75.
A photographic or digital image analysis method that visually records an object's ability to absorb or transmit x-rays. The differential absorption pattern is useful for examining an object's internal structure as well as for comparing the variation in pigment types.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
Possibly the painting identified as a painting by Frans Hals depicting his daughter at the easel that appeared in four London sales between 1810 and 1812. E.M. Grainger, Hastings, Sussex; Mrs. Granger, Bexhil-on-Sea, East Sussex; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 16 April 1926, no. 115); purchased by E. Smith, probably for a London dealer. private collection, New York, in 1928. (Ehrich Galleries, New York); purchased 9 May 1929 by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C.; gift 1949 to NGA.
- A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago, 1933, no. 64, as by Frans Hals.
- Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, John Herron Art Museum, Indianapolis, 1937, no. 22, as by Frans Hals.
- Frans Hals Tentoonstelling ter gelegenheid van het 75-jarig bestaan van het gemeentelijk Museum te Haarlem, Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem, 1937, no. 9, repro., as by Frans Hals.
- Paintings by Frans Hals: Exhibition for the Benefit of New York University, Schaeffer Galleries, Inc., New York, 1937, no. 3, as by Frans Hals.
- People at Work: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art, Hofstra Museum, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, 1988, no. 11.
- Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World, Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem; Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts, 1993, no. 7, repro.
- Judith Leyster: "Leading Star," National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., 1993-1994, brochure, color repro.
- Elck zijn waerom: Vrouwelijke kunstenaars in België en Nederland, 1500-1950 [As You Will: Women Artists in the Netherlands and Belgium, 1500-1950], Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp; Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Arnhem, 1999-2000, no. 34.
- Face to Face: Portraits from Five Centuries, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 2001-2002, no. 35, repro.
- Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; Indianapolis Museum of Art (Columbus Gallery); Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire, 2002-2003, fig. 8 (shown only in Raleigh).
- Loan to display with permanent collection, National Gallery, London, 2003-2004.
- Self Portrait: Renaissance to Contemporary, National Portrait Gallery, London; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2005-2006, no. 11, repro.
- Judith Leyster, 1609-1660 [Judith Leyster's 400th Anniversary], National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, 2009-2010, unnumbered brochure, cover repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. "Rediscovered Paintings by Frans Hals." Art in America 16 (1928): 238-247, repro.
- "Auktionsnachrichten." Kunst und Künstler July (1929): 412, repro.
- "Illustrierte Berichte." Pantheon 4 (July 1929): 337, 343, repro.
- Dülberg, Franz. Frans Hals: Ein Leben und ein Werk. Stuttgart, 1930: 41-42, repro.
- Gratama, Gerrit David. "Het Portret van Judith Leyster door Frans Hals." Oud Holland 47 (1930): 71-75, repro.
- Frankfurter, Alfred M. "Art in the Century of Progress." The Fine Arts 20, no. 2 (June 1933): repro. 24.
- Rich, Daniel Catton. "Die Ausstellung ‘Fünf Jahrhunderte der Frühmalerei’ in Chicago." Pantheon 11 (January 1933): 380, repro.
- Rich, Daniel Catton, ed. A Century of Progress: Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture. Exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, 1933: no. 64, repro.
- Frans Hals tentoonstelling ter gelegenheid van het 75-jarig bestaan van het Gemeentelijk Museum te Haarlem op 30 juni 1937. Exh. cat. Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem, 1937: no. 9, repro.
- "Hands by Frans Hals: Fine Examples of the Skill of a Master in Portraying an Elusive Feature." Illustrated London News (25 September 1937): 532, 534, repros.
- John Herron Art Institute. Dutch Paintings, Etchings, Drawings, Delftware of the Seventeenth Century. Exh. cat. John Herron Art Museum, Indianapolis, 1937: no. 22, repro.
- Rich, Daniel Catton. "Review of Wilhelm R. Valentiner's 'Frans Hals Paintings in America'." Art in America 25 (July 1937): 130–137.
- Schaeffer Galleries. Paintings by Frans Hals. New York, 1937: 3.
- Trivas, Numa S. "The Frans Hals Exhibition at Haarlem." Connoisseur 100 (November 1937): repro. 228, 229.
- Hall, H. van. Portretten van Nederlandse beeldende kunstenaars: Repertorium. Amsterdam, 1963: 187, nos. 2, 5.
- National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 75.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 66, repro.
- Grimm, Claus. "Ein meisterliches Künstlerporträt: Frans Hals’ Ostade-Bildnis." Oud Holland 85 (1970): 146-178, repro.
- Slive, Seymour. Frans Hals. 3 vols. National Gallery of Art Kress Foundation Studies in the History of European Art. London, 1970–1974: 3(1974):152-153.
- Grimm, Claus. "Frans Hals und seine Schule." Münchner Jahrbuch der Bildenden Kunst 22 (1971): 146, 148, repro.
- Iskin, Ruth. "Sexual and Self-Imagery in Art: Male and Female." Womanspace Journal 1 (1973): 7.
- Montagni, E.C. L’opera completa di Frans Hals. Classici dell’Arte. Milan, 1974: 112-113, no. 249, repro.
- Tufts, Eleanor. Our Hidden Heritage: Five Centuries of Women Artists. New York, 1974: 71-72, repro.
- Munsterberg, Hugo. A History of Women Artists. New York, 1975: 26-27, repro.
- National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 194, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 287, no. 382, repro.
- Daniëls, G.L.M. "Doe heb ick uyt verkooren...." Antiek 11 (1976/1977): 336, repro. 340.
- Harris, Ann Sutherland, and Linda Nochlin. Women Artists 1550-1950. Exh. cat. Los Angeles Museum of Art, 1976: 139.
- Montagni, E.C. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Frans Hals. Translated by Simone Darses. Les classiques de l'art. Paris, 1976: 112-113, no. 249, repro.
- King, Marian. Adventures in Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1978: 50-51, pl. 27.
- Hofrichter, Frima Fox. "Judith Leyster's 'Self-Portrait': 'Ut Pictura Poesis." In Essays in northern European art presented to Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann on his sixtieth birthday. Edited by Anne-Marie Logan. Doornspijk, 1983: 106-109, repro. nos. 1, 3.
- Raupp, Hans-Joachim. Untersuchungen zu Künstlerbildnis und Künstlerdarstellung in den Niederlanden im 17. Jahrhundert. Studien zur Kunstgeschichte. Hildesheim, 1984: 346-347.
- Sutton, Peter C. Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting. Edited by Jane Iandola Watkins. Exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art; Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin; Royal Academy of Arts, London. Philadelphia, 1984: 234-235, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 287, no. 376, color repro.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 227, repro.
- Mittler, Gene A. Art in Focus. Peoria, 1986: 260-261, repro.
- Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids and Kampen, 1986: 309.
- Heller, Nancy G. Women Artists: An Illustrated History. New York, 1987: 213 n. 20.
- Schama, Simon. The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. New York, 1987: 415-416, repro. no. 196.
- Barnes, Donna R., and Linda Stone-Ferrier. People at Work: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art. Exh. cat. Hofstra Museum, Hempstead, 1988: 40: 7-8, 23, no. 11, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "The Art Historian in the Laboratory: Examinations into the History, Preservation, and Techniques of 17th Century Dutch Painting." In The Age of Rembrandt : studies in seventeenth-century Dutch painting. Papers in art history from the Pennsylvania State University 3. Edited by Roland E. Fleischer and Susan Scott Munshower. University Park, Pennsylvia, 1988: 220; 236, fig. 9-19; 237, fig. 9-20, X-ray; 238, fig. 9-21, infrared photo.
- Hofrichter, Frima Fox. Judith Leyster: A woman painter in Holland's Golden Age. Aetas aurea 9. Doornspijk, 1989: 15, 24, 51-53, no. 21, pls. 21, 55, 56, 57, color plate x.
- Grimm, Claus. Frans Hals: The Complete Work. Translated by Jürgen Riehle. New York, 1990: 238-239, fig. 127b (detail).
- Fiero, Gloria K. The Age of the Baroque and the European Enlightenment. The Humanist Tradition 4. 1st ed. [7th ed. 2015] Dubuque, Iowa, 1992: 49-50, fig. 22.12.
- Silver, Larry. Art in History. New York, 1993: 24-25, fig. 1.9.
- Welu, James A., and Pieter Biesboer. Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World. Exh. cat. Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem; Worcester Art Museum. Haarlem, 1993: 21, 47, 71, 83, 85, 95-96, 103-105, 119, 162-167, 305, no. 7, repro.
- Welu, James A., and Pieter Biesboer. Judith Leyster: Schilderes in een Mannenwereld. Exh. cat. Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem. Zwolle, 1993: 21, 47, 71, 83, 85, 95-96, 103-105, 119, 162-167, 305, no. 7, repro.
- Balken, Debra Bricker. "Dutch Master Recovered." Art in America (May 1994): 97-99, repro.
- Hofrichter, Frima Fox. Judith Leyster: ‘Leading Star'. Exh. brochure. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, 1994: unpaginated repro.
- Satapen, Nancy. "Who Art the Women Old Masters?" Art News 93 (March 1994): 87-94, repro.
- Springer, Julie. "Women, Power, and Empowering Imagery." Art Education 47, no. 5 (September 1994): 27-29, repro.
- Sutton, Peter C. "Dutch Treat: Review of 'Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World.'" New York Review of Books 41, no. 4 (February 17, 1994): 31-33, repro.
- Thorborg, Lia. "Judith Leyster, meester-schilder uit de Gouden Eeuw." Reader’s Digest (October 1994): 80-85, repro.
- Fiero, Gloria K. The Age of the Baroque and the European Enlightenment. The Humanistic Tradition 4. 2nd ed. [7th ed. 2015] Madison, 1995: 56, fig. 22.12.
- Fleming, William. Arts & Ideas. 9th ed. Fort Worth, 1995: 441, 443 fig. 15.3..
- Huntley, Merle. Art in Outline 2: From Rock Art to the Late 18th Century. Oxford, 1995: 185, repro.
- Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. New York, 1995: 788, fig. 19-47.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 155-159, color repro. 157.
- Westermann, Mariët. A Worldly Art: the Dutch Republic, 1585-1718. New York, 1996: 159, 161, fig. 117, repro.
- Mittler, Gene A., and Rosalind Ragans. Understanding Art. New York, 1997: 181, fig. 12-5a.
- Muller, Sheila D. Dutch art: an encyclopedia. Garland reference library of the humanities 1021. New York and London, 1997: 222-223, fig. 75.
- Codell, Julie F. "Artists/Art." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:60-61, 65, repro.
- Fiero, Gloria K. Faith, Reason and Power in the Early Modern World. The Humanist Tradition 4. 3rd ed. New York, 1998: no. 22.12, repro.
- Huet, Leen, and Jan Grieten. Oude meesteressen: vrouwelijke kunstenaars in de Nederlanden. Leuven, 1998: 134-145, fig. 6.
- Matthews, Roy T., and F. DeWitt Platt. The Western Humanities. 3rd ed. Mountain View, California, 1998: no. 14.19, repro.
- Roberts, Helene E., ed. Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 1:808-809.
- Self-Portraits II: Women." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:808
- Mittler, Gene A. Introducing Art. New York, 1999: 80, fig. 5-1.
- Stighelen, Katlijne van der, and Mirjam Westen. Elck zijn waerom: vrouwelijke kunstenaars in België en Nederland 1500-1950. Exh. cat. Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp; Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Arnhem. Antwerp, 1999: 158-162, no. 34, repro.
- Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. 2 vols. Revised ed. New York, 1999: 2:786-787, fig. 19-43.
- Heller, Nancy. Women artists: works from the National Museum of Women in the Arts. New York, 2000: 27, repro.
- Kirsh, Andrea, and Rustin S. Levenson. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. Materials and Meaning in the Fine Arts 1. New Haven, 2000: 182-183, figs. 190-193, repro.
- Mittler, Gene A. Art in Focus. 4th ed. New York, 2000: 436, repro.
- Savedoff, Barbara E. Transforming Images: How Photography Complicates the Picture. Ithaca, 2000: 12-15, repro.
- Weller, Dennis P. Like Father, Like Son? Portraits by Frans Hals and Jan Hals. Exh. cat. North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, 2000: fig. 4.
- Cavalli-Björkman, Görel, and Eva-Lena Karlsson. Face to Face: Portraits from five centuries. Exh. cat. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 2002: 98, 104, 117-118, no. 35, repro.
- Weller, Dennis P. Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age. Exh. cat. North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis; Currier Museum of Art, Manchester. Raleigh, 2002: 16, fig. 8.
- Hofrichter, Frima Fox. "A Light in the Galaxy: Judith Leyster." In Singular Women: Writing the Artist. Edited by Kirsten Frederickson and Sarah E. Webb. Berkeley, 2003: 36-47, fig. 2.
- Nakamura, Toshiharu. Dutch art in the age of Frans Hals from the collection of the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem. Exh. cat. Niigata Kenritsu Bandaijima Bijutsukan; Toyohashi-shi Bijutsu Hakubutsukan; Sakura Shiritsu Bijutsukan. Tokyo, 2003: 115, fig. 4, repro.
- Droz-Emmert, Marguerite. Catharina van Hemessen: Malerin der Renaissance. Basel, 2004: 148-151, fig. 28.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 194-195, no. 154, color repro.
- "Three loans from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC." The National Gallery Review (2004): 24-25, repro.
- Bond, Anthony, and Joanna Woodall. "Judith Leyster: Self-Portrait." In Self portrait: Renaissance to contemporary. Exh. cat. National Portrait Gallery, London; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. London, 2005: 104-105, no. II, repro.
- Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. Rev. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, 2005: 766, color fig. 19.52.
- Kleinert, Katja. Atelierdarstellungen in der niederländischen Genremalerei des 17. Jahrhunderts: realistisches Abbild oder glaubwürdiger Schein?. Petersberg, 2006: 48-49, fig. 18.
- Janson, Horst W., and Penelope J. E. Davies. Janson's History of Art: The Western Tradition. 2 vols. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2007: 714-715, repro.
- Hofrichter, Frima Fox. Judith Leyster (1609-1660). Exh. brochure. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2009: 1, repro.
- Beyer, Andreas. "Bilder der Frauen." Weltkunst 78 (Oktober 2013): 30, color fig.
The support, a plain-woven fabric with numerous slubs and weave imperfections, has been lined with the tacking margins trimmed. A large horizontal rectangle of original canvas is missing from the bottom left in an area corresponding to the red skirt, and has been replaced with a fine-weight, tightly woven fabric insert. The X-radiographs show cusping along all edges except the insert, which is also bereft of original paint or ground layers.
A smooth, thin, white ground layer was applied overall and followed by a gray brown imprimatura layer. Paint handling varies from fluid paint applied in loose liquid strokes in the black peplum to thicker pastes blended wet-into-wet in the flesh tones. White cuffs were applied wet-over-dry above the thinly scumbled purple sleeves, and red glazes were laid over opaque pink underpaint in the original passages of the red skirt.
An infrared photograph and infrared reflectography at 1.1 to 1.4 microns reveal a major change in the easel painting, which originally showed a woman’s head, with parted lips, turned slightly to the left, which is now partially visible as a pentimento. With the exception of the loss in the lower left, actual paint losses are few: small losses in the top at center and in the proper left cheek. The paint surface, however, is in relatively poor condition, with minute pitting throughout of the type caused by superheating during a lining procedure. This is exacerbated by moderate abrasion overall, and flattening. The unfinished violin player on the easel is heavily abraded.
The painting was treated in 1992 to remove discolored varnish layers and old inpainting. The later insert was retained.
 Infrared reflectography was performed with a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with a J astronomy filter.
Explore This Work
There also have been many experienced women in the field of painting who are still renowned in our time, and who could compete with men. Among them, one excels exceptionally, Judith Leyster, called “the true Leading star in art.”
Theodore Schrevel’s comment about Judith Leyster puns on her name, which means “guide star,” but the artist was a star in her hometown. She was only 19 when an earlier city chronicler, Samuel Ampzing, praised her as a painter of “good and keen insight,” after having posed the rhetorical question, “Who has ever seen paintings by a daughter?” [Samuel Ampzing, Beschrijvinge ende Lof der stad Haelem in Holland, 1628, trans. Irena van Thiel-Stroman, “Judith Leyster,” in Painting in Haarlem, 1500-1850: The Collection of the Frans Hals Museum, ed. Neeltje Köhler (Ghetn, 2006) 224.] In Holland, as in the rest of Europe, professional women painters were indeed uncommon. Leyster was one of only two women accepted as a master in Haarlem’s painters’ guild during the entire 17th century.
This self-portrait was probably made before her admission to the guild in 1633. She turns toward the viewer, smiling with full confidence as she paints. With lips parted as if to speak, she is casually posed with one arm propped on the back of her chair. Even the brushwork is free and lively. She appears to have paused briefly, looking from her easel to engage a visitor to the studio—a patron, perhaps, whose attention she invites to a work in progress.
In fact, Leyster’s self-portrait serves as a piece of self-promotion, advertising both her products and her skill. Her facility with the brush is suggested by the freshness of her own image and by her fistful of brushes, which she easily handles against her palette. Still incomplete, the canvas on the easel, showcases a type of painting for which Leyster was well known: the so-called merry company. These popular genre scenes depicted revelers, costumed actors, dancers, and musicians.The figure of the violin player in the self-portrait reprises one from a merry company Leyster had painted a year or so before. Her initial plan for the self-portrait, however, had been somewhat different. Infrared photography reveals that the painting on the easel had originally depicted a woman’s face. In all likelihood, this would have been Leyster’s own face—a self-portrait within a self-portrait. By using the fiddler instead, she was able to emphasize, in a single canvas, her skill in both portraiture and genre painting.
The “informalities” of Leyster’s self-portrait—its loose brushwork, casual pose, and momentary quality—reflect innovations introduced by Frans Hals in the 1620s. It is not certain that Leyster actually studied with Hals, Haarlem’s leading artist, or worked in his studio, but she was clearly a close and successful follower of his dynamic, new style.
An Artist Rediscovered
For all the acclaim granted Judith Leyster during her lifetime, she almost vanished from memory after her death. Today as many as 35 works are recognized as hers, but until the late 19th century her name and work were almost entirely forgotten: all her paintings were in the limbo of the “unattributed” or assigned to someone else, particularly Hals or Leyster’s husband, fellow Haarlem painter Jan Miense Molenaer. After her marriage in 1636, Leyster’s independent career became greatly circumscribed. Like the wives of many 17th-century Dutch artists, she probably managed the business side of the workshop, and the responsibilities of a growing family would have made difficult to find the long hours needed for working in oil on canvas. Perhaps tellingly, her latest known work is a silverpoint and watercolor drawing on vellum.
Leyster was returned to her proper place among Dutch 17th-century artists following an English court case in 1892. At issue was a painting [see it, link 6] that had been sold to the Louvre as a merry company by Frans Hals. Hals’ work had increased significantly in popularity and price at the end of the 19th century, when a number of impressionists, including Claude Monet, had praised his—and unknown at the time, Leyster’s—free brushwork and informal manner. A mark that was not Hals’ signature had been discovered on the painting: the initials J and L crossed by a star. The controversy aroused the interest of scholars who were soon able to link the initials to Leyster and the star to her family name.
While the casual feel of Leyster’s self-portrait departs from the formality that had been conventional for artists’ portraits, other aspects of her image remain connected to tradition. From the 16th century artists had tried to win acceptance of painting as a liberal art, promoting it as a profession, not merely a manual craft. They hoped to see the visual arts elevated to the same level as the liberal arts of literature, philosophy, and rhetoric. Painters, therefore, depicted themselves in fine clothes and with elegant demeanor, emphasizing their erudition and status. Leyster’s dress of rich fabric and her stiff lace collar—wholly unsuited for painting—aim at the same goal of celebrating her success and separating her from less sophisticated artisans. It has also been suggested that her open, “speaking” smile makes a subtle reference to the art of poetry and its relationship to painting.
About the Artist
Judith Leyster was born in Haarlem in 1609. Her father operated a brewery called the “Ley-ster” (lode or guide star) from which the family took its name. Very little is known about her early life or her training as an artist. It is often presumed that she studied with the prominent Haarlem history painter Frans Pietersz de Grebber, because they were mentioned together in Ampzing’s 1628 paean to Haarlem. Not long after its publication, her family moved to the town of Vreeland, near Utrecht, where Leyster would have encountered the so-called Utrecht Caravaggisti—artists who had traveled to Rome and absorbed the Italian painter’s dramatic style. Several of Leyster’s paintings do exhibit similarly strong contrasts of dark and light. However, the family was in Vreeland only briefly and had resettled near Amsterdam by the fall of 1629. Perhaps Leyster absorbed a rather altered type of Caravaggism from Frans Hals and his circle in Haarlem. She had returned there at least by November 1631 when she witnessed the baptism of one of Hals’ children.
There is no documentary evidence that Leyster studied with Hals or worked in his shop, although she clearly adopted his free manner and took on many of the same subjects. She made close adaptations of three of Hals’ works. Hals’ brother Dirk is also identified as an influence on Leyster; however, around 1629 she must have been independent of the Hals’ shops—if indeed she ever worked in them at all—since she then started to sign her works with her own distinctive mark.
In Haarlem, Leyster achieved a degree of professional success that was quite unusual for women artists of the era. After her admission to the city guild she took on three pupils (when one left her for Hals, Leyster won a court case for compensation from the student’s mother), but following her marriage to painter Jan Miense Molenaer, Leyster painted little. She and her family soon moved to Amsterdam, where they lived until 1648 when they returned to Haarlem and remained until Leyster’s death in 1660.
Related IconClass Terms
- artist +Frans Hals + influence of
- artist at work in studio
- musician with instrument
- historical person +Samuel Ampzing + author critic