Judith Jans Leyster was born in July 1609, in Haarlem, and was the 8th child in the family. Her initial artistic tuition came from Frans Pieter de Grebber, who was a member of the local painters’ guild. He was a landscape artist and portraitist, who also designed tapestries. Around 1633, her family moved 40 km southwest to Vreeland. close to the capital Utrecht. Judith picked up om styles of painters’, such as Dirck van Baburen, Hendrick ter Burgghan, and Gerrit van Honthorst who painted in the style of Caravaggio’s art. This is because they had spent the first 20 years of the 17th century in Italy’s capital Rome. Leyster stayed in Utrecht for less than 12 months. she moved to Amsterdam in 1629, but 2 years later moving back to her hometown, Haarlem. she painted a couple of portraits, recording on Canvas the life of everyday people. But she never painted any religious works. Her famous self-portrait was completed around 1630 when she was 21 years of age, and could well have been her entrance piece for the Haarlem Guild of St Luke’s, her art University.
In this piece, you can see she is at her easel, palette and eighteen paint brushes in her left hand. she seems relaxed with her right arm propped up against the chair, looking towards us. the clothes she is wearing aren’t the clothes she would normally wear while painting due to the fact they are too good to wear for such a messy hands-on job. this is more of a painting in which Judith Leyster is intent on promoting herself. Through this self-portrait, she is eager to reveal herself, her painterly skills and her social standing. in this one painting, she is advertising her ability to paint a merry genre scene as seen by the painting of the violin player on the easel. it is interesting to note that when this painting was painted, it was subjected to infrared photography it was found that the painting on the easel was Leyster’s own face. Leyster decided to have to have the painting on the easel represent another facet of her painterly skills. it was this type of work which was extremely popular with her clientele, who wanted to be reminded of the happy and enjoyable times if life.
Although Leyster was proficiently skilled as a portrait artist the art market was already crowded with popular portraitist and so, probably for economic reasons, she decided to concentrate on her genre paintings. in the late 1630’s, a strange occurrence happened in the Netherlands. The price of tulip bulbs became very expensive. This was called Tulpenwoede, the tulip madness. A rare tulip, known as ‘Semper Augustus’ became so expensive it was worth the same as large Amsterdam house. Many people, who wanted the tulip bulb, watched the rising value of the tulip bulb, wanted part of the action. People used their life savings and other assets were cashed in to get money to invest in these bulbs. By February 1637, a month after the trend began, the price of the bulb had cashed and many people lost their life’s savings. However, the rising value of the tulip bulb came as a boon to floral artists, for if people couldn’t afford the actual tulips for their gardens or pots the next best thing was to have a painting of them and even better still would be to have a book full of beautiful depictions of different tulips. Judith Leyster realised that the public’s love of tulips could be advantageous for her and she produced her own book of tulips.