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Judith Leyster

Jovial portraitist forgotten for 200 years

There's an insuciant weirdness to almost all of Judith Leyster's paintings. Her characters are all extrordinarily happy — hoisting a drink, grabbing an eel, including you, the viewer, 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 1600's.  It's speculated that she began painting to help support her family after her father's bankruptcy, but her works show little angst. Indeed, 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 liturature 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 painted similarly emotive portraits, but finally, in 1892 a work by Judith Leyster was sold as a Hals and its true origin discovered shortly after by Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, a Dutch collector and art historian. Hofstede de Groot went on to write the first academic article on Leyster's work, and begin to recover this woman's strange, personal, and funny take on art.

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