Jan Steen Biography

Jan Steen, a renowned Dutch genre painter of the seventeenth century, captivated audiences with his vibrant and chaotic use of color. Drawing inspiration from everyday life, Steen often depicted tavern scenes, showcasing the merrymakers and families that frequented these establishments. However, his artistic vision extended beyond reality, as he also incorporated mythological, religious, and historical subjects into his works. Beneath the surface of each painting, Steen conveyed an ethical message, cleverly hidden beneath a layer of humor. With an astonishing output, Steen created over eight hundred paintings, with three hundred and fifty of them having been discovered thus far. Although he had no known students, his influence can be seen in the works of genre painter Richard Brakenburg, who is considered one of Steen’s followers.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Jan Havickszoon Steen
  • Died At Age: 52
  • Dutch Men
  • Dutch Artists & Painters
  • Died on: February 3, 1679
  • Place of Death: Leiden, Netherlands
  • City: Leiden, Netherlands

Childhood & Early Years

Jan Steen was born in 1626 in Leiden to Havick Jans Steen and Elisabeth Wijbrands Capiteijn. His father was a wealthy brewer, and the family owned a tavern called “the Red Halbert.” Jan was the oldest of eight children. He received his early education at Latin School and later enrolled at Leiden University in 1646. However, he did not complete his courses and instead became an apprentice to the renowned painter Nicolaes Knupfer. Steen’s composition and color in his paintings show the influence of his master, and it is believed that he may have also been inspired by other artists like Adriaen van Ostade and Isaac van Ostade.


By 1648, Jan Steen had established himself as a painter in Leiden. That year, he co-founded the “Painters’ Guild of St. Luke” with Gabriel Metsu. In 1649, Steen moved to Hague and became an assistant to the landscape painter Jan Van Goyen. He eventually married Van Goyen’s daughter and continued to work with him until 1654. Steen then moved to Delft, where his father leased a brewery on his behalf. He also opened a tavern in his home, but these ventures were not successful. Steen continued to paint, and in 1655, he created one of his masterpieces, “A Burgomaster of Delft and his daughter.” In 1656, he moved to Warmond and lived there until 1660, during which his paintings showed an increased interest in still life details. In 1660, Steen moved to Haarlem and lived there until 1670, painting many masterpieces depicting families and merrymakers with moralizing messages or witty evocations of proverbs. His wife Margriet died in 1669, and in 1670, his father also passed away. Steen then returned to Leiden, where he spent the rest of his life creating more masterpieces. During this period, his paintings became increasingly elegant. When the art market collapsed in 1672, Steen opened a tavern in his home in Leiden. Throughout his life, he produced over 800 paintings, with 350 of them surviving.


In 1674, Jan Steen became the President of the St. Lucas guild, which he had co-founded. He also befriended another Dutch painter, Frans van Mieris the Elder, and enjoyed having drinks together. Some of his major works include “Peasants before an Inn” (1653), “Rhetoricians at a Window” (1658-1665), “The Merry Family” (1668), “Beware of Luxury” (1663), “The Dancing Couple” (1663), “Marriage of Tobias and Sarah” (1660), and “The Feat of St. Nicolas” (1665-1668). Jan Steen married Margriet Grietje Jans van Goyen in 1649, and they had seven children together. After Margriet’s death, he married Maria van Egmont in 1673, and they had a son named Theodorus. Jan Steen died in Leiden in 1679 and was buried at Pieterskerk in the family grave.


The popular Dutch proverb “een huishouden van Jan Steen,” meaning a “Jan Steen household,” refers to a messy household. However, this does not mean that his own household was actually disorganized. The proverb originated from Jan Steen’s lively and chaotic paintings.

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