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Maria Van Oosterwyck was not the daughter of an artist, and was not born into a very wealthy family.  Her father was a Dutch minister who encouraged her to pursue her dreams of becoming an artist.  Van Oosterwyck chose to remain single throughout her life, so that she could focus on her career.  This fact is proven when Willem Van Aelst who was a painter was trying to court Maria.  She had agreed to consider his proposal for marriage, if he would stop courting her for one year, paint in his own studio for ten hours a day, every day for that year.  He bought a studio across from hers where she could keep track of his work habits.  Willem did not meet the stipulations, so Maria turned down his proposal and would continue living the single life. 

Maria Van Oosterwyck is said to have been born in 1630 in Nootdorp, Holland, near the city of Delft.  The exact date of her birth is not certain.

Maria worked in Delft, where she faced a unique problem, being a single woman who was an artist, attempting to find an assistant.  The young men of that era would rather work with a male artist, and there were very few young women whose families would have allowed them to do the work required of an assistant.  Maria found a unique way to solve this problem.  She would train her maidservant in the skills required of an assistant and eventually taught her to paint.  Geertje Pieters, her maidservant, soon gained the skills to begin selling her own paintings.

Maria belonged to an elite crowd whose earnings from her art painting put her in the top income bracket for artists in Holland.  She would earn more than a hundred guilders for each one of her paintings. 

In 1666, Maria was said to have lent money to the Van Stralen sisters who lived in Delft.  In 1675, she donated large sums of money in order to free three sailors who had been imprisoned by Algerian pirates and were being held for ransom.

Maria would remain active in the art world in Delft through 1689. 

Her clients were used to lavish items and would pay greatly for her art work.  It is said that Louis XIV purchased one of her flower paintings.  The Emperor Leopold, the King of Poland, and William III of England heard of her artworks being purchased by Louis XIV and would soon follow suit purchasing her artworks for their very own art collections.  Maria was showered with extravagant gifts and was given great honors by royalty, who would pay large sums for her artwork, in spite of her great success in Delft, where she was the only female painter to gain status as a professional during that century

She was not allowed to be a member in the Guild of Delft or Amsterdam.  Female painters were not allowed to enroll in the Guild, although they did play a role in producing paintings that sold for lower prices.  Female painters were employed by the Guild to peddle their paintings as well as other artist's paintings on the street.  However, Maria gained the position of a highly paid amateur artist in the Guild even though she was really painting at a professional level.

Maria's carefully composed compositions were set against a dark background and were dramatically contrasted with brightly colored flowers that would often include a sunflower, which would appear towards the top of the floral arrangement.  She would use bouquets that would include specific flowers such as a tulip or sunflower that were typical of the flowers found in the 17th century.

Maria was best known for her flower paintings, but also painted vanitas¹.  In fact, her earliest known painting is titled "The Vanitas", which is dated in 1668.  She had included symbolic objects that were often seen in these types of paintings and like the artist Clara Peeters; she would sometimes sign her work with a reflective self-portrait.

Maria would paint until she died at age 63.  In spite of the fact that she painted until her death, her production was limited because she would work very slowly and meticulously, while building up the surface of each one of her complex works. 

Maria died in 1693 after a long productive career of painting such objects as:

  • Coins
  • Glassware
  • Musical Instruments
  • Most notably, flowers

You can view her painting titled "Flowers and Shells" here: http://tinyurl.com/65pbl

¹ Vanitas Depicts "objects" that are luxurious and/or on the verge of decay, such as fruit, flowers, coins, and beautiful women admiring themselves in the mirror.

More information on other lesser known female artists can be found here

Source: Women And The Art World. 2nd ed. : Alpine Publishers, 1971.
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