Judith Leyster possessed a remarkable ability to capture the freshness and spontaneity of children. In this beautifully painted tondo, the young boy conveys the innocence of childhood, his cheeks red and lips flushed. The flowing strand of hair in the background, known as a "love-lock," displays the lightness of Leyster’s touch, as do the delicate strokes defining the sitter’s features. Characteristic of Leyster’s techniques is the use of the back of the brush to scratch long strands of hair into the wet paint. Leyster’s supposed teacher Frans Hals (c.1585–1666) also possessed a remarkable ability to paint children with an energy and immediacy that transmits a sense of their vibrant youthfulness.
Judith Leyster entered into the Saint Luke’s Guild of Haarlem as an independent master in 1633. As a master in her own right, rare for a female artist, 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 Judith Leyster, only nineteen years old at the time, as a painter of "good and keen insight." 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.
Judith Leyster possessed a remarkable ability to capture the personalities of her sitters, especially of children.
I would like to thank Alexandra Libby for her work on this entry.
Despite his quiet demeanor, the young boy possesses an extraordinary liveliness and immediacy, which is owed largely to Leyster’s energetic brush and vivid palette. She modeled his round cheeks and plump lips in fluid sweeps of rose that add the ruddy blush of childhood to his creamy complexion. Touches of brown above his head create the sensation that a few wisps of his soft locks have yet to come to rest. Delicate strokes across his eyelids and eyelashes convey a flickering sense of movement that brings life to the boy’s youthful visage. Finally, Leyster used some sort of firm tool, perhaps the back of the brush, to scratch fine strands of hair into the wet paint to reveal the light ground below. Leyster used this same scratching technique to render strands of hair in Last Drop
Given her evident facility with portraiture, it is remarkable that Leyster only rarely painted portraits. Aside from this work, only two other portraits are known: her
Initially, it would seem that Young Boy in Profile also relates directly to Hals’ influence, to his depictions of children smiling impishly out at the viewer, drinking or playing music
Peter C. Sutton, Pleasures of Collecting: Part I, Renaissance to Impressionist Masterpieces, exh. cat., Bruce Museum of Arts and Science (Greenwich, CT, 2002): 81.
The profile pose of the young boy derives from a classicizing artistic tradition unconnected to Frans Hals. In Haarlem, Frans de Grebber (1573–1649), who, according to Samuel Ampzing,
Samuel Ampzing, Beschrijvinge ende lof der stad Haerlem in Holland (Haarlem, 1628), 370, locates Leyster in Frans de Grebber’s studio, possibly because De Grebber also trained Ampzing’s daughter Maria (c. 1602–1680) and the author was unsure how to account for Leyster’s education as a woman artist.
Even if Leyster did not study with De Grebber, she would have been keenly aware of his efforts to elevate the status of painters through his involvement in the early 1630s in reorganizing the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke on classical academies. E. Taverne, “Salomon de Bray and the Reorganization of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke in 1631,” Simiolus 6, no. 1 (1972–1973): 50–69.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum Het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam; Milwaukee Art Museum, (New Haven, 2008): cat. 28, 136. For the etching, see: cat. 59, 191.
Leyster may have chosen this classicistic pose to reflect the status of this sitter, which may have been elevated to judge from the delicately painted lovelock and refined attire. The lovelock, a tress of hair worn long and to the left of the face, was said to have been introduced at the Parisian court in the early seventeenth century by Honoré d’Albert (1581–1649), marshall of France, lord of Cadanet, and duke of Chaulnes.
Richard Corson, Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years (New York, 1965): 206. In French a lovelock is called a cadanette after its founder and in Dutch it is known as a tutyen.
Marieke de Winkel, Fashion and Fancy: Dress and Meaning in Rembrandt’s Paintings, (Amsterdam, 2006): 139, 303, n. 17.
Aside from his hairstyle, the boy’s outfit also has courtly associations. The gold-and-black piping on his plum-colored doublet resembles a decorative feature of the livery and page uniforms worn at court in The Hague.
See, for example, representations of liveries in the bound album of Adriaen van de Venne’s drawings in the British Museum, Adriaen van de Venne’s Common-Place Book, which are reproduced in Martin Royalton-Kisch, Adriaen van de Venne’s Album in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum (London, 1988): 168, no. 13. See also Alexander van Spaen in Page’s Costume, artist unknown, 1635, Brantsen van de Zyp Foundation, De Canneburch Castel, Vassen, which is reproduced in Marika Keblusek and Jori Zijlmans, eds., Princely Display: The Court of Frederick Henry of Orange and Amalia of Solms (Zwolle, 1997): 80, no. 62.
For a similar style ruff, albeit on a young girl, see Jan Claesz, Six-Year-Old Girl, 1594, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Eschede, illustrated in Jan Baptist Bedeaux and Rudi Ekkart, eds., Pride and Joy, exh. cat., Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem; Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp (New York and Ghent, 2000): 107. The anachronism of the costume prompted Seymour Slive, who had seen the painting only in reproduction, to reject the work as a nineteenth-century imitation of a Frans Hals painting (Seymour Slive, Frans Hals, 3 vols. [London, 1970–1974], 3: cat. D16). However, pigment analysis has found only seventeenth-century materials, reinforcing the stylistic and technical evidence cited above.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
Private collection, Switzerland. (Kunsthandel P. de Boer, Amsterdam), at least in 1968. (Newhouse Gallery, New York); purchased by Thomas Mellon Evans [1910-1997], New York, and Greenwich, Connecticut; by inheritance to his wife, Mrs. Thomas M. Evans [née Betty Barton, 1923-2013], New York, and Greenwich, Connecticut; gift 2009 to NGA.
- Catalogue de tableaux anciens exposés dans les salons de Kunsthandel P. de Boer N.V., Amsterdam, 1968, no. 18, repro., as Tête d'enfant.
- Pleasures of Collecting: Part I, Renaissance to Impressionist Masterpieces, Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut, 2002, unnumbered catalogue, repro., as Head of a Young Girl.
- Judith Leyster, 1609-1660, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2009, unnumbered brochure, fig. 7.
- Small Treasures: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Their Contemporaries, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; Birmingham Museum of Art, 2014-2015, no. 19, repro. and fig. 9 (detail).
The support is an oval, single-member panel with a diagonal wood grain. The reverse is beveled and bears toolmarks. It was prepared with a smooth, thin ground of cream or pinkish tan color. A slightly gray underpainting is evident in some areas. Infrared reflectography at 1.5 to 1.8 microns shows a possible underdrawing as well as some minor artist’s changes in the boy’s features. The changes are also apparent in the X-radiograph. The paint was applied both wet-into-wet and wet over dry in thin, fluid layers. The paint in the sitter’s ruff is slightly more pastose. Throughout the boy’s hair the artist scraped away the paint, perhaps with the end of a brush, to create the highlights.
The painting is in good condition. The panel is planar, though there is a small dent in the boy’s shirt and one in his hair. Losses in the paint and ground are scattered throughout the composition. Additional losses and abrasion are found around the perimeter. Minor overpaint is found in the boy’s ear, cheek, and lips, as well as further inpaint or overpaint along cracks in the wood grain. The varnish has yellowed slightly.
 Infrared reflectography was performed using a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with an H astronomy filter.
 The pigments were analyzed by the NGA Scientific Research department using X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy (XRF) (see report dated June 25, 2009 in NGA Conservation Department files).
- Kunsthandel P. de Boer. Catalogue de tableaux anciens exposés dans les salons de Kunsthandel P. de Boer N.V.. Exh. cat. Kunsthandel P. de Boer, Amsterdam, 1968: no. 18.
- Slive, Seymour. Frans Hals. 3 vols. National Gallery of Art Kress Foundation Studies in the History of European Art. London, 1970–1974: 3(1974):134, 170, no. 129.
- Sutton, Peter C., and Jennifer Ambrose. Pleasures of collecting: Part I, Renaissance to impressionist masterpieces. Exh. cat. Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, Greenwich, Connecticut, 2002: 81, repro.
- Hofrichter, Frima Fox. Judith Leyster (1609-1660). Exh. brochure. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2009: 5, fig. 4.
- Wheelock, Arthur K, Jr. "The Evolution of the Dutch Painting Collection." National Gallery of Art Bulletin no. 50 (Spring 2014): 2-19, repro.