These are the 12 most famous paintings by Judith Leyster, a genre, portrait, and still life painter of the Dutch Golden Age (end of 16th and beginning of the 17th century). Most often, she signed her works with a monogram of her initials JL with a star attached, and this was a wordplay as “Leister” meant “lead star” in Dutch. She specialized in portrait-like genre scenes, with one to three figures who generally were shown against a plain background.
The Proposition (1631)
This genre painting depicts a woman, sewing by candlelight, and a man who is leaning over her right shoulder. The female subject ignores the advances of her suitor, and this painting is considered to be 17th-century feminist work. He is dressed in dark clothing, and in contrast, the woman is fully lit by the candle and is wearing light clothes.
Merry Trio (1629-1631)
Also titled Company playing music and drinking in an interior, this genre painting depicts two men drinking while a third plays the violin. In the background, we can see onlookers.
The Concert (1631–1633)
This painting is characteristic of Leyster as she frequently placed her subjects against a monochromatic background. The figures depicted are based on similar individuals also painted by her, but scholars have identified the singer as Leyster, the violinist as her husband, and the lute player as a family friend.
Jolly Toper (1629)
This oil painting depicts a scene of a popular Peeckelhaeringh figure in 17th-century comedic plays. It refers to an old Dutch word for pickled herring, and to a stock character of plays called Mr. Peeckelhaeringh who was a gluttonous person who always ate this fish, which gave him insatiable thirst. So, in this painting, he is depicted showing a signal that the mug is empty.
Serenade by Leyster (1629)
This oil painting was primarily attributed to Frans Hals, then to Jan Hals until 1893 when it was properly attributed to Leyster by a Dutch art collector de Groot. This painting shows a lute player in the Honthorst style of indirect candlelight illuminating from below. Another Leyster motif is that the subject is looking upward.
A Youth with a Jug (1633)
This dark-toned painting depicts a kannekijker. He is one who peers wistfully into the bottom of an empty jug, wishing for more wine to appear in it. Even though this painting is unsigned, it is attributed to Leyster as there is another painting by Leyster of the same scene.
Young Man with a Cat (1635)
As the title suggests, the main subject of this painting is a man, stroking a cat. Leyster’s brushwork on this painting is quite free and spontaneous, and the painting itself aluminates a positive atmosphere.
Still life with apples and grapes in a wicker basket on a table (1635)
The full name of this painting is Still life with apples and grapes in a wicker basket, with a roemer and ewer on a blue draped table.
This painting depicts the painter turning toward the viewer, confidently smiling as she paints. Her lips are half-open as if she is starting to speak, and she is casually posing with one arm propped on the back of her chair. She appears as if she just paused for a minute, looking from her easel to engage with a visitor to her painting studio. It served as means of self-promotion, advertising her products and her skill at the same time. The brushwork is free and lively, and the still incomplete painting on the easel showcases a type of painting for which she was well known – the so-called merry company.
A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel (1635)
The idea behind A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel is that it represents the Dutch proverb “Een aal bij de staart hebben”. It means “to hold an eel by the tail”, suggesting that you do not hold onto something, just because you have it. But there is another interpretation. The depiction of two children being scratched by cats was actually very popular in the Netherlands, and it alludes to another Dutch proverb “Hij doet kattekwaad”, meaning literally “he does the mischief of the cat”. This playful motif of Dutch proverbs of the 17th century is another evidence of the artist’s personality.
Standing Cavalier (1630)
This oil on canvas painting was acquired by George III the King of Great Britain. At first, it was attributed to Frans Hals, a Dutch painter, but in the 20th century, it was identified as Leyster’s painting based on the biographical details of her life and the visual evidence.
The Last Drop (1629)
This baroque painting, also named The Gay Cavalier, depicts three figures. On the left side, the viewer can see a man drinking the last drop of wine, and a skeleton. The skeleton, who is completely ignored by the other two figures, is observing the man and holding an hourglass in his right, and a skull in his left hand. On the right side of this painting, in flashy red clothes. His costume suggests that the setting is vastenavond (Shrove Tuesday), the night before the beginning of Lent, when people frequently went on binges in order to prepare themselves for fasting and abstinence. This painting speculates the consequences of such overindulgence and gluttony.
What famous paintings by Judith Leyster do you think we should add to this list? Comment below.