One could say that Judith Leyster, a master painter from the 17th century who was a key figure in the Dutch Golden Age, brought painting to the easel. However, for decades, art dealers incorrectly attributed her paintings to male artists due to misogyny and a forged signature.
In 2009, the Frans Hals Museum and the National Gallery of Art held exhibitions to rightfully honor her legacy on this day. The Doodle for today honors her work.
Leyster, whose name signifies “lodestar” (someone or something that fills in as a motivation or guide), was brought into the world in Haarlem in 1609. Even though art historians don’t know much about her formal education, there are rumors that she was very talented at a young age.
In 1628, when poet Samuel Ampzing went to Haarlem to write about the city, he famously said that Leyster, then 19, was a painter with “good and keen insight.”
Female professional painters were uncommon in Europe at the time. However, this did not deter Leyster from her. Leyster finished her first known painting, Serenade and Jolly Topper, in 1629, capturing everyday life with her spontaneous and free signature brushstrokes. She used a distinct monogram to sign her name: J.L.,” a play on her last name, crossed out by a star.
A couple of years in the wake of finishing her most memorable composition, Leyster became one of the main ladies confessed to Haarlem’s renowned painters’ organization. She also established her own studio and began enrolling students during this time.
Although Leyster enjoyed financial success as an artist and the respect of her peers, she was erased from history when art historians later mistook her paintings for those of her male contemporaries.
In 1892, an observant finally noticed a star insignia on one of Leyster’s paintings in the Louvre. The observer commented that the star did not match the male artist’s signature. Leyster was able to reclaim her place in history because this forced the art world to confront their decades-long misattribution.
Since then, more than 30 Leyster masterpieces have been identified by scholarly detectives. Do you want to see them? The most well-known of her works is a self-portrait that shows her smiling knowingly at the viewer.
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