6 Women Artists of the Dutch Golden Age You Should Know

These female artists worked during the Dutch Golden Age and made an impact on the Dutch and Flemish art scene during their lifetime.

Apr 29, 2024By Tyla Jade Whiteley, MSc Global Premodern Art, BA (Hons) History of Art

women artists dutch golden age


Throughout the period known as the Dutch Golden Age, women in the Low Countries were producing work alongside male artists. A lot of these women were the daughters or sisters of painters and a select few used their talents to establish themselves as professionals. The six artists mentioned below were known throughout the Netherlands and Flanders. Today, their art can be found in museums around the world.


1. Catharina van Hemessen

Flowers in a Glass by Rachel Ruysch, 1700. Source: Mauritshuis, The Hague.


Catharina van Hemessen (1528 – 1567) was born in Antwerp. It is widely believed that her father, who was a very successful and well-respected artist, was the one who taught her how to paint. At the height of van Hemessen’s career, she became a member of the painters Guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp and had her own students. This was very unusual for a woman and it reflects the influence she had during her lifetime. This level of success was most likely possible due to her father’s career and his influence in the city.


selfportrait catharina van hemessen painting
Self-portrait by Catharina van Hemessen, 1548, Source: Mauritshuis, The Hague


Even though we do not know very much about van Hemessen, she is often credited as being the first artist who painted a portrait of herself whilst working on a painting. Specializing in portraiture, van Hemessen signed a lot of her works meaning that there is no debate over what pieces of art she completed. However, there are only about ten paintings with van Hemessen’s signature that we know of today.


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In 1556, van Hemessen moved to Spain with her husband to join the court of Mary of Hungary (1505 – 1558), who was regent of the Netherlands at the time. The painter was also documented by two Italian biographers, Lodovico Guicciardini (1521 – 1589) and Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574). Therefore, it is evident that van Hemessen’s artistic abilities were well-known throughout Europe during her lifetime.


2. Clara Peeters 

still life cheeses almonds pretzels clara peeters painting
Still Life with Cheeses Almonds and Pretzels by Clara Peeters, 1615. Source: Mauritshuis, The Hague.


Clara Peeters (1588/89 – after 1636) was a still-life painter whom we know very little about. Also from Antwerp, Peeter’s name does not appear in any surviving document indicating if she was a member of the Antwerp Painters Guild. Her first known painting is dated to 1607 and her artistic ability indicates that she received professional training, possibly from Osias Beert (1580 – 1624) who was a well-known still-life painter from Antwerp. Similar to van Hemessen, Peeters also often signed her work making it easier to identify which works of art were completed by her.


Based on her surviving artworks it appears that Peeters only painted still-lifes. However, she appears to have included reflected self-portraits within her work, being one of the first artists to do so. An example of this can be seen in the painting above. In the metal lid of the jug the top of a woman’s head with a white cap can be noticed. Thirty-nine works of art have Peeters signature or some sort of indication that they were completed by her.


There are also documents listing paintings by Peeters from outside of Antwerp, assuming these are works by the same artist and not by another Clara Peeters. These include inventories of wealthy families from Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Rotterdam. It is also thought that two of Peeters’ artworks appeared in the Spanish Royal Court in Madrid.


3. Judith Leyster

dutch golden age self portrait judith leyster painting
Self-Portrait by Judith Leyster, c.1630. Source: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


Judith Leyster (1609 – 1660) has become one of the most recognizable artists who was working during the 17th century. Born in Haarlem, very little is known surrounding Leyster’s childhood and artistic education. It is suggested that she was taught by Frans Pietersz de Grebber (1573 – 1643). However, her family also moved to the province of Utrecht so she may have come into contact with the Utrecht Caravaggisti, whose style can be seen in many of her works. Many believe that she was taught by Frans Hals (1582 – 1666) due to how similar their artistic styles are, but there are no records to support this. By the 1630s Leyster was a member of the painters Guild of St. Luke of Haarlem and she even had her own apprentices.


A Fool Holding a Jug, known as The Jolly Drinker by Judith Leyster, 1629. Source: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.


Differing from the majority of female artists who painted still-lifes, Leyster specialized in depicting people and household scenes. She used very loose brushstrokes and played with shadow and light, techniques similar to Hals. We know that Leyster and Hals were acquaintances and aware of each other’s artistic careers. Both of them were working in Haarlem during the same time and they even had a dispute over a pupil who left Leyster’s studio to join Hals’s. After Leyster married in 1636, she didn’t produce as much work and her art started to be misattributed to her husband or Hals. However, in 1893, she was rediscovered by art historian Cornelis Hofstede de Groot (1836 – 1930). Since then, her signature, which had been falsely covered by Hals’s, has been discovered on numerous works of art.


4. Maria van Oosterwijck 

Still Life with Flowers, Insects and a Shell by Maria van Oosterwijck, 1689. Source: Royal Collection Trust, located in Kensington Palace, London.


Maria van Oosterwijck (1630 – 1693) specialized in floral, still-life paintings and was active in Delft and Amsterdam. Some documents claim that she was a pupil of Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606 – 1684) while others believe that she was actually a student of Willem van Aelst (1627 – 1683). Later in her life, van Oosterwijck moved to Amsterdam where her workshop was opposite van Aelst’s. This could have been when she first came into contact with him.


Unlike the other female artists mentioned, van Oosterwijck never married. Additionally, there is no record of her ever joining a painter’s guild. Even though we do not know whether van Oosterwijck was a member of an artistic institution, she was still able to achieve high levels of success during her lifetime.


In the 1660s, Leopold I of Austria (1640 – 1705) bought one of her paintings which would have bought her recognition outside of the Dutch Republic. Throughout her career, she continued to receive numerous commissions from members of European High Courts. Her work can be found in royal collections, such as the British Royal Collection. Van Oosterwijck’s still-lifes are always highly detailed and often include the idea of vanitas.


5-6. Dutch Golden Age’s Ruysch Sisters

still life flowers marble tabletop rachel ruysch painting
Still Life with Flowers on a Marble Tabletop by Rachel Ruysch, 1716. Source: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.


Rachel Ruysch (1664 – 1750) and Anna Ruysch (1666 – 1754) were floral, still-life painters. The two artists were the daughters of well-known botanist Frederik Ruysch (1638 – 1731), who was also a professor of anatomy, so he was able to finance a high level of education for his children. Through his connections, both women were able to create careers for themselves in Amsterdam. Rachel, the oldest and the most successful one, received training from Willem van Aelst and it is believed her younger sister also apprenticed for him. The sisters may have also received training from the German scientific illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 – 1717).


Rachel Ruysch’s art can be found in many museums around the world. Even after her marriage, she continued to receive commissions and produce work. This allowed her to support her family. Focussing her talent on depicting floral imagery, Ruysch is often considered one of the most successful artists in this genre. Ruysch became the first female member of The Hague’s Confrerie Pictura and at the height of her career, she was the court painter for Dusseldorf’s Elector Palatine Johan Willem (1658 – 1716).


Even though she is less well-known, Anna Ruysch also had a successful career as a painter. She specialized in depicting flowers and in 1688 married a paint dealer. After her marriage, she helped her husband with the business. Anna did not always sign her work and this has led to uncertainty surrounding which paintings were actually completed by her.


dutch golden age anna ruysch painting
A Bunch of Grapes, Two Peaches, Plums and a Chestnut with a Butterfly and a Cockroach on a Parly-Draped Marble Ledge by Anna Ruysch, date unknown. Source: Christies


The Ruysch sisters and their success, especially Rachel’s, is very unusual. It is evident that under the right circumstances and support a few women artists were able to have well-established careers. However, as is seen with Leyster and Anna Ruysch, the majority of women stopped selling artwork after they got married. On the other hand, a lot of female artists get overlooked and their work is often misattributed to better-documented male painters.


In recent years there has been a growing number of art historians who are trying to uncover which works of art were actually painted by women artists. It could even be suggested that there were a lot more female artists working during the Dutch Golden Age than we are aware of. Their paintings were most likely attributed to their husbands, brothers, or fathers in order to support their families’ businesses.

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By Tyla Jade WhiteleyMSc Global Premodern Art, BA (Hons) History of ArtTyla Jade is an art historian who holds an MSc in Global Premodern Art: History, Heritage and Curation from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in History of Art from the University of Plymouth. Based in London, Tyla Jade has previously worked in art galleries as well as assisted with lectures for Utrecht’s Summer School in The Netherlands. She is passionate about research and enjoys writing about varied art historical topics. Also, she enjoys travelling and learning about different cultures from around the world.