The Artists

Judith Leyster
Jovial portraitist forgotten for 200 years

Judith Leyster, The Artists
Portrait of Judith Leyster

There’s an insouciant weirdness to almost all of Judith Leyster’s paintings. Her characters are extraordinarily happy—hoisting a drink, grabbing an eel, and almost always turning to lock eyes with the viewer, including us in a moment of intimate hilarity.

Judith Leyster was the second female member to be admitted to the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke, a prominent Dutch artist guild in the early 1600s. She might have turned to painting to support her family after her father’s bankruptcy, but her works show little angst. A confidence and humor pervades her work, and it’s matched by her professional success. After two years in the guild, she had three apprentices, and was well known enough to be mentioned in literature documenting her town of Haarlem.

But art history betrayed Judith. Her entire body of work, despite its distinctive ‘JL*’ monogram, was attributed to Frans Hals for almost 250 years after her death. Hals also painted emotive portraits with similar styling and subject matter, and it took until 1892 for someone to spot the mistake. It was the Dutch collector and art historian Cornelis Hofstede de Groot who first recognized Leyster’s mark on a painting that had recently been sold as a Hals. Hofstede de Groot went on to write the first academic article on Leyster’s work, taking the first steps toward recovering Judith Leyster’s strange, personal, funny take on art.

Reed Enger, "Judith Leyster, Jovial portraitist forgotten for 200 years," in Obelisk Art History, Published January 26, 2016; last modified October 31, 2022,

Judith Leyster was a Dutch Woman Artist born on July 28, 1609. Leyster contributed to the Baroque movement and died on February 10, 1660.

Jolly Toper, Judith Leyster

Jolly Toper 1629

A Card Player, Judith Leyster

A Card Player 1630

Boy with a cat, red hat and a piece of bread, Judith Leyster

Boy with a cat, red hat and a piece of bread 1630

Self-Portrait, Judith Leyster

Self-Portrait 1630

Young Boy in Profile, Judith Leyster

Young Boy in Profile 1630

Young Flute Player, Judith Leyster

Young Flute Player 1630

The Proposition, Judith Leyster

The Proposition 1631

A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel, Judith Leyster

A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel 1635

The Last Drop, Judith Leyster

The Last Drop 1639

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