Judith Leyster, one of the few female Old Masters whose work has been upheld alongside her male colleagues, is the subject of a Google Doodle today that’s intended to bring her more mainstream recognition.
Leyster was active in the Netherlands during the 17th-century; she painted alongside Frans Hals, and for centuries, many art experts even attributed her work to his name. She only lived to be 50, but she is prized for her party scenes, whose inebriated revelers and lively musicians ended up defining that subgenre of painting during the era.
The Doodle seems to allude to a ca. 1630 self-portrait by Leyster that is held by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and is now considered one of the most important images of a female artist at work. It is one of around 35 known paintings by Leyster.
Leyster was a rarity for her time, in that she was one of the few women to infiltrate a predominantly male class of painters and went on to achieve fame. In 1633, she was admitted into Haarlem’s most important artists’ group, the Guild of St. Luke, making her the first female artist ever to obtain that status. And she sometimes had to fight for herself, as she did two years later, when she submitted a complaint to the guild that Hals, an artist with a similar style, had stolen one of her assistants. He wound up having to pay Leyster a small sum.
Google said its Doodle was meant to commemorate the day in 2009 when the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem opened a Leyster show that was meant as a corrective.
“One could say painting came easel-y to Judith Leyster, a 17th-century master painter and a central figure in the Dutch Golden Age,” Google said in a statement. “However, misogyny and a forged signature caused art dealers to misattribute her paintings to male artists for decades.”
Google was referring to an 1892 lawsuit that resulted in the revelation that a Leyster painting now belonging to the Louvre had long been billed as a Hals painting. The work’s value was subsequently downgraded before being bought by the Louvre around two decades later, in 1914. According to the Washington Post, there is no record of a Leyster work having been hung in an institution or publicly sold prior to the 1892 lawsuit.
Since then, Leyster has been studied more widely, and during the ’70s, as feminist art historians like Linda Nochlin began to ask provocative questions about the omission of women artists from the canon, Leyster only received more attention.
The 2009 show, which also appeared at the National Gallery of Art, led to a revival of her art. Peter Schjeldahl, writing in the New Yorker, said of the exhibition, “I knew Leyster was good, but the Washington show surprised me with its suggestions of the formation of a great artist. It left me indignant on her behalf.”
Google has used its Doodles to honor female artists. Past subjects of them have included Pacita Abad, Rosa Bonheur, Barbara Hepworth, Katarzyna Kobro, Naziha Salim, and Ana Mercedes Hoyos, who was honored on Saturday.