The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, presents the first exhibition in the Americas dedicated to the art of Michaelina Wautier (1614–1689), a painter from Brussels all but forgotten until the recent rediscovery of her work.
The exhibition is centered around her rare series The Five Senses (1650), a set of five pictures was virtually unknown until it was acquired by Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo and lent to the MFA in 2020. Here, they are joined by Wautier’s remarkable Self-Portrait, on loan from a private collection and on public view in the U.S. for the first time.
Wautier’s technique, process and training are mysterious. Few records about her life exist, due in part to her gender. This exhibition, organized by the MFA’s Center for Netherlandish Art in collaboration with a professor and six doctoral students from Brown University, presents new scholarship about the artist and her unusual career as a female painter working in mid-17th-century Brussels.The Five Senses and the Self-Portrait, all of which have only been attributed to Wautier in recent years, are among fewer than 40 known works by the artist. Wautier focuses on boys—a different model in each painting—performing everyday activities in her detailed portrayals of Sight, Hearing, Smell, Taste and Touch. Accompanying prints by her predecessors and contemporaries, including Cornelis Cort (1533–1578) and Johannes Gillisz. van Vliet (about 1610–about 1640), demonstrate Wautier’s originality, showcasing how she defied a convention at the time of depicting the senses as experienced by idealized women. In her Self-Portrait, Wautier presents herself both in a formal aristocratic setting and as a professional artist, facing an easel and holding painting tools. Together, these extraordinary pictures are exemplary of Wautier’s unique style and brushwork. Additionally, the exhibition features a print after a now-lost portrait by Wautier from the MFA’s collection that has never been on view.
The exhibition is accompanied by the first volume of the digital publication series CNA Studies, available on mfa.org and featuring essays by the six organizing students: Yannick Etoundi, Sophie Higgerson, Emily Hirsch, Regina Noto, Mohadeseh Salari Sardari and Dandan Xu is edited by Professor Jeffrey Muller.