JUDITH LEYSTER - A Woman Painter in Holland's Golden Age
aetas aurea ix
Frima Fox Hofrichter
1989. 4to. 140 pp. text, 159 plates and ills. (18 in color). Cloth bound with dustjacket
ISBN 90 70288 62 1
Judith Leyster's (1609-1660) compelling oeuvre covers a wide range of interests: genre, still-life and portrait paintings; botanical drawings in watercolor and silverpoint; and at least one etching. Her work ranges from modest pieces to the iconographically complex. She painted card sharps and backgammon players; boys playing flutes, lutes or violins; men attempting to seduce women; and mothers sewing and combing their children's hair. She delighted in the play of sunlight on a wall and the mysterious shadows of night animated by the flickering of a candle flame. Although she is perhaps best known as a follower of Frans Hals, her innovative, small nocturnal paintings are perhaps her most significant contribution to Dutch art. Her successful depiction of genre scenes of both the jovial and the subdued is a testament to the breadth of her talent and versatility.
The main text contains three chapters: her life, her painting and her critical fortune. Then the catalogue raisonné, a list of forty relevant documents, and a household inventory. Finally there is a bibliography and three indexes.
Her life, before her marriage in a household where her father was a bankrupt and, in her marriage to the artist Jan Miense Molenaer, who was constantly charged with non-payment of debts, seems always to have been stressed by the possibility of financial ruin; five children (three died young), too must have contributed to her struggle with a professional life. As a result, Leyster is less prolific than her early years suggest.
Leyster's work in those early years saw the influence of both Frans Hals and the Utrecht Caravaggisti - a combination which created some emotionally-charged nocturnal, domestic scenes as well as happy-go-lucky violin players. The question of Leyster's own status in the guild, and as an artist with students, is examined from both an art historical and feminist perspective, as is the critical response to her work for the last three hundred years. Leyster, a forgotten painter until the end of the nineteenth century, is perhaps only beginning to be appreciated in our time - to become what she always wished and what her name implies: a "leading star".
The catalogue raisonné includes forty-eight authentic known works; seven problem pieces; twelve lost works, known only from 17th and 18th century descriptions; and eighteen misattributed works. Copies, variants and engravings of each are recorded. For the first time, the complete record of the Leyster-Molenaer estate, inventoried in 1668, totalling 340 household items including over hundred paintings, is transcribed and translated.