Timing is everything. Apparently, this 3-word proverb is timeless. If anyone knows how valid the saying is, 17th century Dutch painter Judith Leyster knows. She’s a prime example of how being in the right place at the right time can make a world of difference. I guess you could call it fate in Judith’s case. In her 50 years of life she went from brewer’s daughter to art icon. Thanks to the Dutch Golden Age, she was able to take her talent and share it with millions.
Judith Jans Leyster was child number eight for Jan Willemsz Leyster. The proud Papa baptized his baby girl on July 28, 1609, the day of her birth. Jan was the owner of the “Ley-ster,” a brewery from which the family got their surname. The beginning of Judith’s artistic interests isn’t 100% known. What is known is that Judith was already hanging with the pros by no later than the age of nineteen. She was mentioned as an active artist in Samuel Ampzing’s Beschrijvinge ende lof der stadt Haerlem (Description and Praise of the City of Haarlem in Holland). The book was originally written in 1621, revised in 1627-8, and finally published in 1629.
Judith briefly lived in Vreeland and Amsterdam with her family before returning home to Haarlem in 1631. Once she arrived, she once again began to paint. Frans Hals, a famous Dutch portrait painter, became a major influence upon Judith’s work. Its rumored she even studied with him. By 1633, Judith became the first of the only two female members of the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke, a city guild for painters. Surprisingly, within two years of her entry, Judith became a teacher. All of her apprentices were male. Take THAT gender barriers.
In 1636, Judith put the paintbrush down and settled down. She chose Jan Miense Molenaer as her lawfully wedded husband. In an attempt to keep their heads above water the couple moved to Amsterdam where the art market was more stable. They were both artists and needed to sell their paintings or starve.
Eleven years and five kids later the duo returned to a suburb of Haarlem. They still owned their house in Amsterdam and frequently returned for visits. Judith became completely dedicated to her family after her marriage and didn’t pick up her brush after the union. She died in 1660.
The bulk of Judith’s paintings are dated between 1629 and 1635. Despite the estimated 5 million paintings created in the Netherlands between 1600 and 1700, only about a dozen of them are Judith Leyster originals. Honestly, Judith was forgotten about until 1893 when the Louvre purchased a Frans Hals painting only to find out it was actually painted by Judith. As it turns out, the dealer changed the monogram. Dumbass.
Judith was an innovator. She was one of the three significant female artists during the Dutch Golden Age. Her specialty was genre paintings, but she also created a few still-life paintings and portraits.
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