Sunday, February 15, 2015

Judith Leyster, Boy Playing the Flute

Judith Leyster, Boy Playing the Flute, 1635
28.74 x 24.4 in.

Judith Leyster (1609-1660) was a painter of the Dutch Golden Age.  Although rather successful in her lifetime, Leyster was all but forgotten for two hundred years after her death.  All of her works were attributed to the prolific painter Frans Hals.  In 1893 she was rediscovered and paintings began accruing to her name.  Leyster's best known piece is probably her self-portrait of 1633. She is also known for The Proposition (1631) which shows a man soliciting a reluctant young woman. Leyster's work shows a fascinating exploration of light and shadow and a strong interest in portraying the character of her subjects.  Boy Playing the Flute demonstrates these interests. The boy looks quite thoughtful and gazes, not toward the painter and viewer, but out the window. It seems as though his mind may not really be on his music.  From the light source of that window, the shadow he casts on the wall behind him creates a very interesting shape and, along with the shadow of the violin, an unusual feeling of doubling.  Leyster's skill is on particular display in the rendering of the boy's hat, which feels quite vibrant and real in both color and texture.  The boy's hands are also carefully rendered to show his movement and the keen physical engagement involved in playing this flute.  The style that Leyster and Hals worked in was very important in the development of portrait and genre painting and had a particular influence on Johannes Vermeer. Although even after her rediscovery Leyster was sometimes considered a pale imitation of Hals, in recent years her reputation has improved markedly, and she is recognized as a master of the Dutch style whose genre paintings offer great insight into the lives and feelings of her subjects.

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