Willem Cornelisz DUYSTER
Making Music and Reading a Letter
Oil on panel, 31x26cm
Willem Cornelisz Duyster (1599–1635) was a Dutch Golden Age painter from Amsterdam, best known for his “guardroom scenes” (cortegaardje), genre paintings showing the military life.
Duyster’s early training is unknown, but it is likely that he was apprenticed to a painter in Amsterdam. He may have been influenced by the work of Pieter Codde, another Dutch Golden Age painter who specialized in guardroom scenes.
Duyster’s first known paintings date from the early 1620s. These paintings are characterized by their realistic depiction of soldiers and their equipment. Duyster also showed an early interest in depicting the psychological interactions between his subjects.
In the mid-1620s, Duyster’s work began to develop a more distinctive style. His paintings became more atmospheric and his use of light and shadow more dramatic. He also began to experiment with different compositions, often placing his figures in asymmetrical arrangements.
Duyster died in Amsterdam in 1635, at the age of 35. His death was likely caused by the plague, which was a major epidemic in Amsterdam at the time.
Duyster’s work was highly regarded by his contemporaries, and he was one of the most successful painters in Amsterdam in the 1620s and 1630s. His work is still highly regarded today, and his paintings are on display in museums around the world, such as the State Museum, Berlin, Germany; the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, Holland; the State Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia; the Louvre Museum, Paris, France; the Musée de la Chartreuse, Douai, France and the National Gallery, London, England.
“Making Music and Reading a Letter”
All the famous works by Willem Duyster are of high artistic value. The luscious colours of his paintings rendering the milieu of the era, the masterfully captured texture of fabrics and expressive rhythms of composition make this artist an outstanding example of Dutch early genre.
This composition which is based on the combination of relatively small figures and large empty space resembles a theatrical mise en scène. The painting belongs to the mature period of the artist’s creative life, characterized by uniform tonality, simple treatment of space and, typically to Duyster, interest in the issues of light. Shadows in the painting become characters of their own, creating the desired mood and atmosphere. The picture is not overcrowded with objects; full attention is drawn to the people in the scene, making the viewer guess about their world, their nature and reasons of the get-together. The mysterious candlelight creates a romantic setting, revealing the more intimate side of life in those days where someone’s letter is read and music is made in the twilit room.
Private collection, Switzerland