Judith Leyster

James A. Welu and Pieter Biesboer, project directors. Worcester Art Museum/Frans Halsmuseum, distributed by Yale University Press, 391 pages, $60,00.
Although Judith Leyster (1609-1660) was a member of Haarlem’s Guild of St. Luke, maintained a workshop with at least one student, and was in her time both accomplished and successful as a painter, art historians forgot about her for two centuries. She was, to be sure, a woman. She was also, as the authors acknowledge, not an innovator. One of her paintings was long attributed to Frans Hals and fell sharply in value when Leyster’s hand was recognized. Her subject matter was frequently that widely popular in (he Dutch genre market—laughing children embracing realistically disgruntled cats, and merry meetings. Merry meetings required at least one musician, one drunk, and one suspiciously gaudy blonde beauty, plus as many auxiliary revelers as the painter’s energy and the patron’s purse could accommodate. The text suggests that such paintings were warnings against wine, wenches, and wasted time. To a modern eye, the warning is invisible. Merry meetings may. however, have contributed to Leyster’s eventual obscurity. After some years as an independent businesswoman, she married Jan Miense Molenaer, a painter who specialized in the subject, and her own work apparently ceased. The authors offer no personal information about Leyster, because none survives, but a great deal about her contemporaries, their techniques, and the stylistic influences, artmarket operations, and ideas current in the period. The book is admirably illustrated and, as the subtitle promises, reconstructs “A Dutch Master and Her World.”