Michaelina Wautier, The Triumph of Bacchus (around 1650), from the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna
The first ever exhibition for a long-forgotten 17th-century female artist is to be held at the Rubens House in Antwerp in 2018. Michaelina Wautier is probably the first woman who successfully painted works in nearly all the genresportraits, history pictures, still-lifes and scenes of everyday life. At that time most successful Flemish female artists specialised in flower compositions.
Wautier (or Woutiers) was born in Mons in about 1617 and worked in Brussels, where she died in 1689. She seems to have had an elder brother, Charles, who was also a painter.
Her finest work is The Triumph of Bacchus, painted around 1650 and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. A comparison with a self-portrait (1649, private collection) suggests that she depicted herself as the half bare-breasted bacchante in the mythological scene. Around 30 of her paintings are known, some of which were commissioned by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, who was the governor of the Spanish Netherlands from 1647 to 1656.
The recent change in Wautiers fortunes can be gauged from a sale at a Koller auction in Zurich on 22 March 2016. Her 1654 portrait of Martino Martini, a Jesuit missionary, was sold for CHF400,000 (318,000) with an estimate of CHF7,000-CHF10,000.
A catalogue raisonn on Wautier is being prepared by Katlijne Van der Stighelen of the University of Leuven. Stighelen will curate the 2018 Rubens House exhibition.