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Judith Leyster: The Playful Painter

Judith Leyster

The Playful Painter

(1609–1660, Netherlands)

Gather ‘round for a story of National Treasure-esque intrigue.

Miss Judith was born in Haarlem, outside Amsterdam, during the Dutch Golden Age.

*cue sweeping panoramic shots of the city*

She was the eighth child in a big old family.

Her father owned a brewery called The Leyster, which meant “The North Star.” “Leyster” became the family’s surname.

This is important because the STAR is the key to unlocking Judith’s paintings in the future.

*close up on the star*



Judith’s first known paintings are dated 1629, when she’s 20 years old.

Judith had a marvelous knack for visual wit. Her sense of humor leapt right off the canvas.

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Her style was loose, free and fun. A far cry from the stodgy portraits we think of from ye olden times.

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She’s always painting lively people smiling, making music or drinking (shout out to dad at the brewery).

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Don’t you just feel happy looking at her work? Don’t you want to hang out with her over a Leyster beer?

Judith made quite an impression on the local arts scene and was asked to join the Haarlem painters guild in 1633, at the age of 24. Only one other gal was ever allowed into the guild in the entire century.

Judith was feeling herself! She ran a legit studio and made lots of cheerful paintings and had apprentices and taught students.

She even sued another artist for stealing one of her studio assistants. (He was found guilty and had to pay a fine. Serves him right.)

Then, Judith married another painter when she was 27 and her solo career was cut short.

She had babies.

She stopped painting her own paintings.

Instead, she was busy assisting her hubby in his studio (PS is there any word worse than “hubby”)

Judith died at 51 and her legacy basically vanished into thin air.

Nobody remembered her name.

Nobody remembered her art.

And over time, her delightful paintings were all credited to her male contemporaries.

Hmmm… how did THAT happen?


233 years after Judith’s death!!

*cue action movie music*

It’s 1893. Dutch art historian Cornelis Hofstede de Groot was pondering this painting, The Happy Couple.

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This was a painting by Frans Hals.

De Groot knew it was a painting by Frans Hals because there was Frans Hals’ signature, right there.

But De Groot looked closer, and he discovered something odd.

Underneath Frans Hals’ signature, he saw

The initials JL…



Whose signature could this be?

Nobody but Judith Leyster.

So, Frans Hals’ signature was bogus. Either Frans was trying to take credit for the painting, or someone faked his signature years later to increase the value of the painting.

Cornelis Hofstede de Groot discovered several more paintings that had been attributed to other artists, but had Judith’s initials and her star hidden on the canvas.

*cue Nicholas Cage playing Cornelis Hofstede de Groot*

His findings were published, and JUDITH’S LEGACY WAS SAVED FROM OBSCURITY!

Fast forward to 2009, when Judith was honored with a posthumous retrospective show at the National Gallery of Art in DC.

And fast forward again to today, where all you lovely people now know the truth about this witty woman artist who captured the humor and joy of life in the 1600s.

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