The Proposition (painting)

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The Proposition
Judith Leyster The Proposition.jpg
Artist Judith Leyster
Year 1631
Medium Oil on panel
Dimensions (11 3/8[1] in × 9.5[1] in)
Location Royal Picture Gallery, Mauritshuis[1], The Hague

The Proposition is a genre painting of 1631 by Judith Leyster, now in the Mauritshuis in The Hague, who title it Man offering money to a young woman.[2][3] It depicts a woman, sewing by candlelight, as a man leans over her, touching her right shoulder with his left hand. He is offering her coins in her right hand, but she is apparently ignoring the offer and concentrating intently upon her sewing.[4][5][2]

The man wears dark clothing, and the dark tones as well as his shadow cast behind him and across his face from the angle of the candlelight give him a looming appearance. In contrast, the woman is lit fully in the face by the candlelight, and wears a white blouse.[5] It is an early work by Leyster, who was only 22 years old in 1631.


Contrast with contemporary works[edit]

Meg Lota Brown, professor of English at the University of Arizona, and Kari Boyd McBride, professor of Women's Studies at the same, consider The Proposition to be "one of [Leyster's] most intriguing works from her period of greatest artistic output".[5] Marianne Berardi, an art historian specializing in Dutch Golden Age painting, states that it is "perhaps her most notable painting".[6] Its most distinctive feature is how different it is to other contemporary Dutch and Fleming "sexual proposition" paintings, many falling into the Merry company genre.[5] The convention for the genre, a common one at the time, was for the characters to be bawdy, and clearly both interested in sex, for money. The dress would be provocative, the facial expressions suggestive, and sometimes there would be a third figure of an older woman acting as a procuress.[5][7] Indeed, in The Procuress by Dirck van Baburen, an example of the genre, that is exactly the case.[2]

Judith Leyster in 1630, the year before she painted this work

In contrast, in The Proposition the woman is depicted not as a whore but as an ordinary housewife, engaged in a simple everyday domestic chore. She isn't dressed provocatively. She does not display her bosom (but rather her blouse covers her all of the way to her neck). No ankles are visible. And she displays no interest in sex or even in the man at all. [7][2] Contemporary Dutch literature stated the sort of activity in which she is engaged to be the proper behaviour for virtuous women in idle moments.[2] Kirstin Olsen observed that male art critics "so completely missed the point" that the woman is, in contrast to other works, not welcoming the man's proposition that they mistakenly named the painting The Tempting Offer.[8]

The foot warmer, whose glowing coals are visible beneath the hem of the woman's skirt, was a pictorial code of the time, and represented the woman's marital status. A foot warmer wholly under the skirt indicated a married woman who was unavailable, as it does in The Proposition; a foot warmer projecting halfway out from under the skirt with the woman's foot visible on it indicated one who might be receptive to a male suitor; and a foot warmer that is not under the woman at all, and empty of coals, indicated a single woman.[9] This code can also be seen in Vermeer's The Milkmaid and Dou's The Young Mother.[10]

Feminist reinterpretation[edit]

The feminist reinterpretation of the picture largely originated with the work of Frima Fox Hofrichter who pointed out in 1975 (Hofrichter 1975) the difference between Leyster's painting and others of the genre and that it had served to set a precedent for other, later, artists, such as Gabriël Metsu in his An Offer of Wine.[11][12] According to Hofrichter, the woman in The Proposition is an "embarrassed victim" presented sympathetically and positively.[12]

However, not all art historians agree unequivocally with Hofrichter.[13] For example: Wayne Franits, professor of fine art at Syracuse University, later critiqued Hofrichter, observing that an offer of money was a common beginning of a courtship at the time, so the painting might depict a simple honest attempt at courtship. Franits suggests the "woman's unequivocally wholesome activity of sewing provided an important precedent for later genre paintings depicting domestic virtue".[14] A number of later genre scenes remain ambiguous in a similar way, most famously The Gallant Conversation (or The Paternal Admonition) from circa 1654 by Gerard ter Borch (the Younger), and The Hunter's Gift by Metsu (both Rijksmuseum).[15]

Inspiration for other works[edit]

The 1997 short story entitled "The Proposition", in Amanda Cross's The Collected Stories, has the painting as a plot element. So also does Michael Kernan's 1994 novel Lost Diaries of Frans Hals.[16]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Lewis & Lewis 2008, p. 324.
  2. ^ a b c d e Harris 2005, p. 358.
  3. ^ Mauritshuis page
  4. ^ Servadio 2005, p. 215.
  5. ^ a b c d e Brown & Boyd McBride 2005, p. 262.
  6. ^ Berardi 1999, p. 985.
  7. ^ a b Pollock 2012, p. 59.
  8. ^ Olsen 1994, p. 72.
  9. ^ Harris 2005, p. 358–359.
  10. ^ Harris 2005, p. 359.
  11. ^ Broude & Garrard 1997, p. 215.
  12. ^ a b Stone-Ferrier 2000, p. 263.
  13. ^ Leuthold 2011, p. 211–212.
  14. ^ Franits, 50-51
  15. ^ Franits, 146-147 and 180-182 respectively
  16. ^ Hofrichter 2003, p. 46.


  • Berardi, Marianne (1999). "Netherlandish Artists (1600–1800)". In Tierney, Helen. Women's Studies Encyclopedia: G–P. 2. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313310720. 
  • Brown, Meg Lota; Boyd McBride, Kari (2005). "Women and the Arts". Women's Roles in the Renaissance. Women's Roles Through History Series. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313322105. 
  • Broude, Norma; Garrard, Mary D. (1997). "Feminist Art History and the Academy: Where are we Now?". In Helly, Dorothy O.; Hedges, Elaine; Porter, Nancy. Looking Back, Moving Forward: 25 Years of Women's Studies History: 1 & 2. Women's Studies Quarterly Series (25th ed.). Feminist Press at CUNY. ISBN 9781558611719. 
  • Harris, Ann Sutherland (2005). "The Dutch Republic". 17th-century Art & Architecture. Laurence King Publishing. ISBN 978-1856694155. 
  • Franits, Wayne E. (2004). "Haarlem". Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting: Its Stylistic and Thematic Evolution. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300102376. 
  • Hofrichter, Frima Fox (2003). "Judith Leyster". In Frederickson, Kristen; Webb, Sarah E. Singular Women: Writing the Artist. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520231658. 
  • Leuthold, Steven (2011). "Gender and Japonisme". Cross-Cultural Issues in Art: Frames for Understanding. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780415577991. 
  • Lewis, Richard L.; Lewis, Susan I. (2008). The Power of Art (2nd ed.). Cengage Learning. ISBN 9780534641030. 
  • Olsen, Kirstin (1994). Chronology of Women's History: Profiles Nearly 5000 Women Worldwide. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313288036. 
  • Pollock, Griselda (2012). Vision and Difference: Feminism, Femininity and Histories of Art (3rd ed.). Routledge. ISBN 9781136743894. 
  • Servadio, Gaia (2005). "Women In The North". Renaissance Woman. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 9781850434214. 
  • Stone-Ferrier, Linda (2000). "Gabriel Metsu's Justice Protecting Widows and Orphans: Patron and Painter Relationships and their Involvement in the Social and Economic Plight of Widows and Orphans". In Wheelock, Arthur K. (Jr); Seeff, Adele F. The Public and Private in Dutch Culture of the Golden Age. The Center for Renaissance and baroque studies. University of Delaware Press. ISBN 9780874136401. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Hofrichter, Frima Fox (1975). "Judith Leyster's Proposition: Between Virtue and Vice". Feminist Art Journal. 4: 22–26. 
    • Also published as: Hofrichter, Frima Fox (1982). "Judith Leyster's Proposition: Between Virtue and Vice". In Broude, Norma; Garrard, Mary. Feminism and Art History. New York: Harper & Row. pp. 173–181. 
  • Kahr, Madlyn Millner (1978). "Judith Leyster: The Rejected Offer". Dutch painting in the seventeenth century. Harper & Row. pp. 65–66. ISBN 9780064335768. 

External links[edit]