Sunday, October 21, 2012

Golden Age

Judith Leyster  "Self-Portrait" ca. 1630 National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC)
It is hard to believe that this piece was at some point attributed to various other Dutch golden age (male) painters, including Frans Hals. Judith Leyster  (1609-1660) was well-known in her time, and officially registered with the Guild of Saint Luke's in Haarlem, and there are even numerous court records of her various legal doings (including a successful suit of Frans Hals for apprentice-stealing.) Yet a few centuries later it was as though she had not existed. I find this baffling and somewhat chilling.

As a child who was frequently taken to art museums I recall hearing there was some controversy about this work, and a large old book (with slightly blurry tipped-in plates) that resided on my parent's bookshelf, did indeed attribute this piece to Hals. (I am 49. The book was probably a few decades older.)  At any rate, sometime in the last half century Leyster's existence was re-discovered, her oeuvre re-examined, and her reputation re-established. Golden indeed!

further musings: 
So, just thinking, many of the artists profiled here on WAP had children, and many of them had MANY children (see Lavinia Fontana who had 11, for instance.) Contrary to the common mythos, in the vast majority of cases we don't hear that having children brought these women's careers to an end. Far from it. However, in the case of Judith Leyster that does seem to have been the case. Once she married and had children (five) she stopped producing known work, although some historians have posited that she then assisted her lesser-known artist-husband with his work. I wonder if she just became submerged by a cascade of major life events (childcare, moving, lawsuits, sickness, etc.) from which she did not have a chance to break free before she died, at the relatively young age of fifty. I will have to read a more detailed biography and see what her biographers say...


Alexandra Tyng said...

Judith Leyster, one of my art heroines! I wonder whether there are still paintings of hers that have been mistakenly attributed to others. Maybe not, but it is intriguing to contemplate.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Yes, one has to wonder! Biographers note that her artistic output appeared to cease after her marriage to the painter Jan Miense Molenaer and the raising of their subsequent five children. Nonetheless, she may have signed work differently after her marriage, and/or may have collaborated with her husband to produce what are now known as only his pieces. We just don't know!