news | 8 march 2023

Museum De Lakenhal presents overview of master painter David Bailly and vanitas art in Leiden

From 10 March to 2 July 2023, Museum De Lakenhal is organising an exhibition about the Leiden master painter David Bailly, an artist who raised the theme of vanitas in painting to new heights. The exhibition was preceded by years of research, which revealed new discoveries relating to Bailly’s work and life.

Famous masterpiece

In his time, David Bailly (1584-1657) was a famous portrait painter in Leiden. He also painted one of the most important paintings about transience: Vanitas still life with portrait of a young painter from 1651. Soap bubbles, candles, skulls – all the symbols in this masterpiece reflect the Dutch master’s preoccupation with time and death around 400 years ago. Yet today Bailly’s name is unknown to many people - unlike that of Rembrandt van Rijn or Gerrit Dou, who lived in the same city and at the same time. To rectify this, in recent years, Museum De Lakenhal has been working together with experts to unravel the mysteries of Bailly.

New discoveries

Their research revealed new layers in the Vanitas still life with portrait of a young painter. Researchers discovered different portraits that had been painted over and that various objects had been moved in the painting. New works were also attributed to Bailly as a result of their research. For example, four impressive portraits by the artist were found in two castles in the Dutch province of Gelderland: of a Leiden University professor, his wife and their daughter and son-in-law. Several self-portraits painted by Bailly have also been brought together, as well as portraits of friends: informal drawings of intellectuals and fellow artists. Additionally, the exhibition presents new information about Bailly’s life and his personal environment, which has come to light following new archive research.

David Bailly, Portrait of Johan Kelffken, 1631
David Bailly, Portrait of Johan Kelffken, 1631 Collection Brantsen van de Zyp Stichting
David Bailly, Portrait of Clara van Bronchorst, 1631
David Bailly, Portrait of Clara van Bronchorst, 1631 Collection Brantsen van de Zyp Stichting

Scientific basis

‘As a museum, we feel it’s important for our exhibitions to have a scientific basis,’ says curator Janneke van Asperen. ‘Thanks to this extensive research in collaboration with external experts, we now know much more about Bailly’s life and work. And research always raises new and exciting questions. We involve the visitor in these too.’

About the exhibition

The exhibition David Bailly – Time, Death and Vanity brings together 90 works: portraits and vanitas paintings by Bailly and contemporaries like Dou, Lievens and Rembrandt. Visitors can now discover the work and life of this unjustly forgotten master painter.

Publication and activities

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication featuring the results of the research. Numerous activities are also being organised in relation to the exhibition. The coming three editions of Lakenhal Laat will focus on the exhibition. The first vanitas edition of this evening opening is on Friday evening 10 March.