Judith Leyster was born in 1609 in Haarlem, a city in Holland. At an early age, Leyster experienced financial hardship when her father, a weaver and brewery owner, went into debt. He declared bankruptcy four years later, when Leyster was 15. 

She studied painting under the Dutch artists, Franz Hals. Her work, style and choice of subject matter were all very similar to her teacher’s that it is believed that many of her paintings were thought to be by Hals, but are actually Leyster’s artwork. In 1893, the Louvre purchased a work attributed to Hals, but the painting turned out to be a signed work by Leyster!

She specialized in painting small pictures with only a few figures shown in dramatic lighting. The subjects of her paintings were often people who frequented and entertained in taverns. She excelled at painting the familiar, ordinary men and women drinking beer, smoking pipes, and playing musical instruments. She generally used bright lighting and intense colors of paint. These bright effects were offset by the deep shading she used to show forms.

Leyster became famous in her own right, during a time when men dominated the world of art. When Leyster signed her paintings, she used only her initials and joined them together with a star, punning the meaning of her last name "leading star." Her contemporaries in the art world thought very highly of her work and she lead a successful career up until her death in 1660.


SELF-PORTRAIT – Leyster left the background of her painting empty of objects and neutral in color so that attention is focused upon her content face, as she works in her studio. She has turned to face the viewer, resting her right arm on the back of her chair and the canvas propped on the easel. 

Her left hand grasps a palette with a white cloth and many brushes. Her relaxed manner seems to say that she is sure of herself and pleased with her work.

Notice how her delicately poised hand lightly holds a long paintbrush, which serves to direct attention to the picture that the artist is working on. In that picture, Leyster caught the spirit of the laughing musician playing his violin. Notice that the way he holds his bow is similar in the way the artist holds her paintbrush.

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