Jan Steen (1626 – 1679)

Dutch painter Jan Steen was born in Leiden in 1626. As was usual in the 17th century, he started his career taught by masters: Nicolaus Knüpfer, Adriaen van Ostade and Jan van Goyen (he married his daughter Margriet in 1649) respectively. After his training he became self-employed. Looking at his entire collection, it is clear that he had to earn a living. He painted about three to four paintings a month for a long period (possibly 700 in total) while the subjects were mainly portraits and other depictions of people.

Jan Steen is known for his paintings of chaotic daily life tableaux, a typical genre painter. His work Soo voer gesongen, soo na gepepen (a saying in 17th century Dutch, meaning something like As the birds sing, the chicks cheep) is a good example: around the kitchen table, people drink and play music while a father teaches his kid to smoke a pipe. From this genre stems the commonly used Dutch saying een huishouden van Jan Steen (a Jan Steen housekeeping), which obviously refers to an untidy mess. Steen was never sparing his criticism on the weak side of humans.

Steen has lived in the Netherlands all his life. He died where he was born: in Leiden. The Steen family grave is to be found in a church called Pieterskerk in Leiden. Other significant Dutch painters from his time are Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals.

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