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The Last Drop
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Judith Leyster’s The Last Drop (The Gay Cavalier) shows what happens when the booze runs out at the end of the night.

It’s the 1600s and the evening before the start of Lent, so naturally there’s only one thing to do: engage in a debaucherous night of partying. In The Netherlands, this binge night is known as vastenavond, and like Mardi Gras beads in New Orleans, the standing boy’s get-up is a giveaway that Leyster’s painting takes place during Dutch Carnival.

The daughter of a brewer, Leyster often captured party goers and the tavern scene in her genre paintings, which were all the rage in 17th century Dutch life. But in this particular painting, Leyster decided to do some moralizing as well by including a skeleton lurking in the background because YOLO. I mean, what’s a bigger buzzkill than a skeleton holding a skull in one hand and a diminishing hourglass in the other?

But this moral message didn’t please everyone. Likely fearing that people wouldn’t be interested in buying such a depressing scene (let us drink in peace!), at some point an art dealer had the skeleton painted over, turning it into a table with a candle on it. Tipped off by an art historian as to the true nature of the painting, it wasn’t until the ‘90s that the Philadelphia Museum of Art did some snazzy investigative work (ie: x-rays and microscopic cleaning tests) to uncover the concealed skeleton. It then took several years to restore the bony figure to its original, morbid glory.

The Last Drop might also be the “after” to the “before” depicted in Leyster’s The Merry Trio, which shows three costumed bros at what appears to be the start of a party. The cups are full, the room well-lit, and everybody looks just a tad bit tipsy. Fast forward several hours and you get the dimly lit drunken scene in The Last Drop. Both pieces are the same size and were documented together as part of of a British art dealer’s collection in the 1900s. Moral of the story? The next time you get drunk at a party make sure you keep one eye over your shoulder for any skeletons that might be creeping in the corner.

Sources

Sources

  1. “The Last Drop (The Gay Cavalier),” Philadelphia Museum of Art, January 7, 2018, https://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/102220.html
  2. Karen, Rosenberg “A Career Woman’s Short but Sweet Career in the 17th Century,” New York Times, published July 22, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/arts/design/23leyster.html.
  3. Karen Chernick, “100 years later, art museum celebrates a Barnes-like collector you maybe never heard of,” PhillyVoice.com, published October 31, 2017, http://www.phillyvoice.com/100-years-later-art-museum-celebrates-a-barne...
  4. Tim Higgins, “A new look at Old Masters: Johnson Collection on display at Philadelphia Museum of Art,” The Morning Call, published November 17, 2017, http://www.mcall.com/entertainment/arts/mc-ent-philadelphia-museum-johns...

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about The Last Drop (Leyster)

The Last Drop is a c. 1639 oil painting by Judith Leyster in the John G. Johnson collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was considered a work of art by Frans Hals until 1903, when it was noticed that it is signed 'JL*' on the tankard.

Background

The artist

Judith Leyster was a famous artist during the seventeenth century; however, her reputation was forgotten soon after her death. There were no mentions of her name to be found in sales records and no prints made of her artwork. However, early in her career, she was recognized as the very first woman artist in the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke. It was not until 1893 that Judith Leyster was rediscovered and was given recognition as a woman painter of the Dutch Golden Age.

Provenance

Judith Leyster's The Last Drop was in the collection of Sir George Donaldson in London around 1903. The canvas was then sold to the collection of Hoogendijk on April 28 or 29, 1908. Now, the painting is part of the John G. Johnson Collection in the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia.

Misattribution

Leyster did not date The Last Drop and Merry Trio; therefore Juliane Harms dated her work within the years of 1631 to 1633. These were the dates of Leyster's other candlelit paintings, for example, The Proposition. In 1642 it was recorded that an art dealer named Emanuel Burck sold art pieces signed with the name "Judith Molenaer" and "Judith Leyster". Molenaer was her married name from her husband Jan Miense Molenaer. It is possible that Emanuel Burck personally knew Leyster and used her married name instead of her maiden name on purpose. Another name that she went by on legal documents was "Juffrow Molenaer". When her husband, Jan Miense Molenaer, died, the inventory of paintings in their home were not listed by the name of Judith Leyster but instead by the name of: "Juffrow Molenaer", 'His wife", "Wife of the deceased", and "Judith Molenaer". In 1903 it was documented that the British dealer and auction house Sir George Donaldson, exhibited The Last Drop and Leyster's Merry Trio together. The Last Drop and the Merry Trio were then exhibited together in the 1904 Guildhall exhibition, Painters of the Dutch School, where they were listed under both Judith Leyster and Frans Hals. The Last Drop and Merry Trio may be pendants as they were then reported to have the same measurements. At this time, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot recognized Leyster's signature on the Carousing Couple, which had previously been credited to Frans Hals. After recognizing Leyster's signature on the Carousing Couple, Groot then identified six more of Judith Leyster's paintings. The Guildhall exhibit presented a biography for Frans Hals, but not for Judith Leyster. The organizers of the exhibit did not want to surrender Frans Hals's label. It is often mistaken that Leyster was a pupil of Frans Hals, although there is no sufficient proof that this was the case. There is a slight resemblance between Leyster's work and Frans Hals's artistic style, but this is not enough to prove that she was his student.  In 1904, organizers of that same Guildhall exhibition also attributed the painting Young Women at Her Toilet to the name of Leyster, but wrote about Leyster's art in a negative way.

Restoration

Juliane Harms documented The Last Drop in 1908. At that time, the moralizing figure of the skeleton had been painted out and a lamp stood in its place. The skeleton of The Last Drop was only known because of a studio copy. In the 1990s, the canvas was put under the examination of raking light and X-ray photography. The painting has since been restored, removing the painted lamp and revealing the skeleton. The now unconcealed skeleton demonstrates that later generations were not beholden to the image of death in the middle of the painting. This moral representation was despised enough for someone to commit the act of overpainting the skeleton.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about The Last Drop (Leyster).

Comments (2)

Lorna Wright

So interesting! I love that the skeleton is holding another skull, too, as if the memento mori message wasn't clear enough with just one skeleton. Maybe these guys are just too drunk to take a hint.

thinkstuff101

Props to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for digging up the skeleton :)