Judith Leyster’s Self-Portrait exudes self-confidence in her abilities, and it has become one of the National Gallery of Art’s most popular Dutch paintings. Leyster has depicted herself at her easel, briefly interrupting work on a painting of a violin player to interact with the viewer. The momentary quality of the portrait and the vigorous brushwork echo the work of Frans Hals (c. 1582/1583–1666), Haarlem’s most celebrated portrait painter and Leyster’s colleague. By juxtaposing her hand holding a brush with the hand and bow of the violin player, Leyster cleverly compares the art of creating ephemeral music with the art of creating timeless paintings. She holds the tools of her trade—a palette, a cloth, and no fewer than eighteen brushes. In reality she would not have worn the elegant dress and lace-trimmed collar while at work in her studio.

Leyster entered into the Saint Luke’s Guild of Haarlem as an independent master in 1633. As a master in her own right, a rarity for a female artist at the time, Leyster established her own workshop and had paying students. Five years earlier, her proficiency and talent had already drawn public praise. A chronicler of Haarlem described Leyster, then only nineteen years old, as a painter of "good and keen insight." In the late 1640s, another city historian wrote that among the many women experienced in the field of painting, "one excels exceptionally, Judith Leyster, called ‘the true leading star’ in art." The compliment cleverly alludes to the artist’s family name, which means "lodestar." The artist herself incorporated a star in her professional signature, the monogram JL*. Following her marriage to fellow Haarlem artist Jan Miense Molenaer in 1636, Leyster stopped producing art in her own name but probably continued to paint in collaboration with, and in the workshop of, her husband.


  • Title: Self-Portrait
  • Creator: Judith Leyster
  • Date Created: c. 1630
  • Physical Dimensions: overall: 74.6 x 65.1 cm (29 3/8 x 25 5/8 in.) framed: 97.5 x 87.6 x 9.2 cm (38 3/8 x 34 1/2 x 3 5/8 in.)
  • Provenance: Possibly the painting identified as a painting by Frans Hals depicting his daughter at the easel that appeared in four London sales between 1810 and 1812.[1] E.M. Grainger, Hastings, Sussex; Mrs. Granger, Bexhil-on-Sea, East Sussex;[2] (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 16 April 1926, no. 115); purchased by E. Smith, probably for a London dealer.[3] private collection, New York, in 1928.[4] (Ehrich Galleries, New York); purchased 9 May 1929 by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C.;[5] gift 1949 to NGA. [1] This suggestion was made by Burton Fredericksen. In a letter of 12 December 2002 to Arthur Wheelock (in NGA curatorial files) Fredericksen writes that the lack of recorded dimensions, the low price at which the painting was bought in, and the fact that it was part of a group of minor paintings prevent a firm conclusion, although paintings by Hals did not bring high prices at the beginning of the nineteenth century. For the first three sales, the painting was described as _The Portrait of F. Hals' Daughter_ by F. Hals; for the fourth sale it was _The Painter's Daughter at her Easel_, also by Hals. The sales are as follows: consigned by a Dr. Biam (or Byam) along with four other paintings to Christie's, London, 7 July 1810, no. 161, bought in; the same consignor to Christie's, London, 8 March 1811, no. 65, bought in; consigned by "Pritchard" to Christie's, London, 19 April 1811, no. 157; anonymous consignor to Peter Coxe, London, 3 June 1812, no. 28, bought in. [2] Lynda McLeod, Librarian, Christie’s Archives, kindly provided the name of the consignor; see her e-mail of 1 August 2012, in NGA curatorial files. Despite the slight difference in the spelling of the last name, E.M. Grainger and Mrs. Granger were likely related. [3] Information on this purchaser is from an annotated copy of the 1926 sale catalogue, and various articles in London papers giving the sale results; copies in NGA curatorial files. [4] The owner of the painting is identified in this way in Wilhelm R. Valentiner, "Rediscovered Paintings by Frans Hals," _Art in America_ 16 (1928): 239, fig. 2. [5] The purchase date is in the donor's collection records for the painting, in NGA curatorial files.
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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