Paulus Lesire was born in Dordrecht in 1612. His parents were the glassmaker and house painter Augustijn Lesire from The Hague and Anneke Claesdr, the daughter of a Dordrecht glassmaker. The couple lived in the Steegoversloot “naast de Paternoster” (next to the Paternoster [a house]). Paulus’s father was still living there when he married his second wife, Claartje Bartholomeusdr van Eissel, in 1631, and it is from this house that he was taken to be buried in 1648. Augustijn joined the Dordrecht Guild of Saint Luke in 1611, becoming its dean in 1639. In 1631 he registered his two sons as members of the guild: Claes as a glassmaker, who also became a candlemaker and a captain in the militia, and Paulus as a painter.
Paulus Lesire’s master is not known, but is presumed to have been Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp (1594–1652). In September 1634 Lesire married Lowize le Claar in The Hague. The couple moved to Dordrecht, where Lesire produced history paintings in the style of “de Leidse Rembrandt” (Rembrandt of Leiden) and portraits commissioned by the local elite. Around 1639 he painted the third company of the Kloveniersschutterij, or harquebusiers.1 When John Berry, an English student at Leiden University, visited the Dordrecht harquebusiers shooting range ten years later, he noted in his travel journal that the picture had remained unfinished. Only the heads had been painted because, according to Berry, “the States refused to allow the cost, which had it been perfect, it would have required.”2 In the same year, Lesire designed the title print for Johan van Beverwijcks’s Van de wytnementhyt der vrouwelicken geslachts, which was published in Dordrecht. This book also contained a portrait of the famous artist and woman of letters Anna Maria van Schurman (1607–78) after an etching by Lesire.
Soon thereafter Lesire moved to The Hague, where he probably lived until his death without, incidentally, ever becoming a member of the local Guild of Saint Luke. In 1644 he painted a large picture of The Hague militia portraying the moment a year earlier when they had gathered on the beach at Scheveningen to lend luster to Queen Henrietta Maria’s departure for England.3 At an auction, organized by the Hague Guild of Saint Luke in 1647, the art dealer Cornelis van Heynsbergen bought a work by Gerard Houckgeest on behalf of Lesire from a large group of paintings belonging to Jan van Goyen and Johan Schuyff. A year later Lesire promised to paint the portrait of Sara van Nuffelen, widow of Reinier van Persijn (d. 1639), justice of the Court of Holland, and also of her son and his family, to repay an outstanding debt he owed her. Interestingly, in this document the widow refers to him several times as “mijn neeff” (my cousin), a kinship that may have gained him entry into the Hague elite.4
Lesire had probably been a widower for some time by 1648. In that year he seems to have lived with the cloth maker Heijmraet Claessen and his wife, Maria de Hoogh, a close relative of the Hague painters Dirck and Gerrit de Hoogh. Lesire partially repaid a debt of 850 guilders to the couple for “huyshuir en verteerde costen” (board and lodging) with a single painting that was valued at 700 guilders. The cloth maker may have been the business partner of the Arnhem cloth merchant and treasurer Willem Craeyvanger (1615/16–after 1666), a relationship that would explain why Craeyvanger chose to have his portrait specifically painted by Lesire during a visit to The Hague in 1651 (PaL-100). When, in 2009, the hitherto unknown likenesses of Craeyvanger, his wife Christine van de Wart, and their eight children unexpectedly came on the market, it was initially thought that the portrait of Christine (CN-110.e), painted in ca. 1655–56, was also by Lesire. It has since been attributed, however, to a then still young Caspar Netscher (ca. 1639–84), who, with his teacher Gerard ter Borch (1617–81), was also responsible for the likenesses of the eight children (GB-111.a, GB-111.b, GB-111.c, and GB-111.d and CN-110.a, CN-110.b, CN-110.c, and CN-110.d).5
It is not known precisely when Lesire died. Among the paintings that the Hague wine merchant Joris de Caullery (ca. 1606–after 1661) divided among his children in 1654 was Rembrandt’s famous portrait of De Caullery as an officer of the Hague militia from 1632 and “zyn comparants conterfeijtsel gedaen bij Pouwels Lesire” (portraits of his attenders done by Paulus Lesire).6 Lesire’s last known painting is a 1654 portrait of a man in armor, which led Loughman to wonder whether the sitter might have been De Caullery because, in the 1654 deed, the sitter was said to be a naval officer.7 Although Loughman believed that the date on the portrait could also be read as 1656, which would rule out identifying the sitter as De Caullery, Van Suchtelen has confirmed that the date is actually 1650.8