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Monday, May 11, 2015

Jan Miense Molenaer

Two Boys and a Girl Making Music, 1629, Jan Miense Molenaer.                                     
There appears to be a family resemblance.                                     
Self-portrait in His Study, Jan Molenaer
Every once in a while I come upon a painter who, while perhaps far from the greatest artist to ever wield a brush, leaves us a body of work so delightful as to be impossible to resist. That's the case with Jan Miense Molenaer. Molenaer was another in the immense crowd of Dutch Golden Age painters. He was born in 1610, died in 1668. He lived, worked, and died in Haarlem (expect for a few years in Amsterdam). Among the esteemed masters of the Golden Age, Molenaer was at best, mediocre, though he at time rose somewhat above that level. However, you know you're in trouble when your wife paints better than you do. His wife was the genre and still-life artist Judith Leyster. They shared a studio and five children (only two of which survived to adulthood). All five are depicted in the family portrait below if it is to be interpreted correctly. They seem to have been a very musical family. The Two Boys and a Girl Making Music (top) dating from 1629, may be their children. It's certainly one of Molenaer's better works.
The Family Portrait, 1635, Jan Miense Molenaer. Painted some six years after the triple portrait at the top, the three central figures in black appear to have aged appropriately.

Art historians suggest Jan Molenaer and Judith Leyster may have met when both were students of the famous Dutch portrait painter, Frans Hals. There is certainly an element of Hals' style and content in some of Molenaer's paintings, though not so much in that of his wife's. While Judith Leyster is probably the most highly regarded female artist of the Dutch Golden Age, Molenaer may well best be known as simply her husband. Leyster's genre and portrait works are such that until around 1893, they were all attributed to her probable instructor, Frans Hals.
Jan Miense Molenaer Self-portrait,  1640
Judith Leyster Self-portrait,

The two artists' self-portraits (above) suggest they were a lighthearted couple. Both were members of the Haarlem Painters' Guild. Leyster at times even took on apprentices. Molenaer is probably best remembered for his "Five Senses" paintings, one of which, The Smell, had me laughing out loud when I first saw it. So far as I know, no other artist has ever, before or since, depicted the changing of a diaper. The other four, The Touch, The Taste, Seeing, and Hearing, are all delightfully lower-class character studies, but where The Smell is concerned, Molenaer's obvious sense of humor may have taken genre painting to a new level.

The Smell, 1637, Jan Miense Molenaer
The Taste, 1637, Jan Molenaer
The Touch, 1637, Jan Molenaer

Seeing, 1637, Jan Molenaer
Hearing, 1637, Jan Molenaer
Perhaps the best indication of the family home life in which both spouses painted while at the same time raising five kids can be seen in Molenaer's The Artist's Studio (below) from 1631. It would seem to have been a social hub of activity. Both parents, it would seem, in working there would have to be immune to distractions. I'm not sure I could work with that many people milling about. Maybe that's why the painting on the easel remains unfinished. But if the studio is somewhat "busy," it's a far cry from the riotous atmosphere of Molenaer's The Village School (bottom). Having taught school for twenty-six years, I know I could never function in an environment like that.

The Artist's Studio, 1631, Jan Molenaer.

The Village School, 1634, Jan Miense Molenaer.


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