Artist
Jan Steen
painter from the Northern Netherlands

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Jan Steen
painter from the Northern Netherlands
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Birth Date

1626

Death Date

February 03, 1679

Arty Fact

mjacobson's picture

Contributor

Jan Steen was born in Leiden to a good Catholic family and was the oldest of at least eight children.  

Steen’s parents were brewers and owned a tavern, so whenever people wanted to party they’d turn to the Steens. Seriously, a “Jan Steen household” means a messy one because that was what Steen often painted--and we can only assume he painted what he knew.

Steen went to the same school as Rembrandt, and there must be something in the water there because he picked up the art bug, too.  In 1684, Steen and Gabriël Metsu founded the Painters' Guild of Saint Luke at Leiden. Shortly after, he moved in with artist Jan van Goyen and, with the speed of a cheetah, swept up the man’s daughter and married her. Then, just like his parents, he had eight kids and ran a brewery.  When the art market was decent, he continued to paint.  But a bunch of tragedies befell Steen in a short number of years.  His wife died in 1669, his father died in 1670, and the art market collapsed in 1672--the Year of Disaster.  Following the collapse, Steen opened a tavern, remarried and became president of the Saint Lucas Guild.  Life goes in circles.

As noted, Steen is known for the “Jan Steen household.”  However, despite growing up in the perfect environment for a wild and crazy guy, it’s pretty much accepted that these paintings are supposed to be a warning rather than an invitation. 

mbaa's picture

Contributor

I’m not sure if we could call Jan Steen a high functioning alcoholic.

Jan Steen made quite a few paintings in his day; 800 or so. That’s a prolific number, but back in the 17th century Dutch Republic, Steen was also known for his alcohol habit. He ran a pub in Delft for a few years. Some say that he was “his own best customer.” That wouldn’t sound too bad if he had other customers. Unfortunately, for everybody, he had to shut it down, and skip town. Steen did a lot of that, flitting from one city to another. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

Steen was born to a family of wealthy brewers in Leiden. They owned a number of inns and pubs sprinkled across the Dutch country. The ill-fated da Slang (a pub which literally translates to the Snake) that Steen took care of in 1654 wasn’t one of them. Jan Steen probably rented out the pub hoping that his genes would help him keep up a steady business. It didn’t. 

In 1948, Steen and Gabriel Metsu founded the Guild of St. Luke in Leiden. He stayed in Leiden for about a year, and then decided to move to the Hague. Here, he met Jan Van Goyen, a famous landscape artist. Steen became his student, and worked with him for a few years. Their relationship sounds a lot like a bollywood film. A young kid moves to the city of dreams for a chance to live his own. He meets a nice guy who takes him under his wing. They’re good friends, but damn, his daughter’s hot. So, Steen does what any young noble man would do. He waits till he can get her father’s permission to sex her up. Well, that is what would have happened in the Bollywood version. Jan Steen did the more obvious thing. He got Grietje pregnant, and made van Goyen his father-in-law.  

Jan Steen was a fun Dutchman. He painted scenes of revelry, debauchery, and chaos. He became a household name, literally. Back then, messy homes that seemed to have been partying for weeks would qualify as “een huishouden van Jan Steen” or a “Jan Steen Household.”

The Dutch painter often included himself in his own work. He would appear as a jester, or a lute player, just out there in disguise. He made good use of his family too, making them model for his paintings. His wife and kids feature in quite a few of them. Even their dog made the cut, yipping at their feet, trying to locate the source of chaos. You know what small dogs are like. They have this pathological need for attention. Wait, that’s all dogs. All in all, Steen’s paintings were usually a family affair.

Steen returned to Leiden in 1658, after he wrapped up the pub in Delft. He registered himself at the guild. Again. Skipped town. Again. I’m sure you see a pattern emerging. Lucky for you, Steen doesn’t keep it up. He returns to Leiden in 1670. He registers himself at the guild. Again. But, this time he stays. He becomes the headman of the Guild, thrice. And, in 1672, he even gets a license to run an inn called de Vreede or “The Peace.” With all the debts hanging over his head, we’re pretty sure he needed it.

Jan Steen primarily painted for profit and he painted a lot. Sadly the paintings did not make him very rich. His passion lay elsewhere, probably at the bottom of a bottle.

Sources

Sources

  1. "The Schoolmaster - Jan Steen." WestCoast Media. November 19, 2015. Accessed July 23, 2019. http://wcmagazines.com/art-appetite-attractions/the-schoolmaster-jan-steen/.
  2. Chapman, H. Perry. “Jan Steen, A Player In His Own Paintings”. Jan Steen Painter and Storyteller. (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1996).
  3. Jonathan5485. "The Life of Man by Jan Steen." My Daily Art Display. August 26, 2011. Accessed July 23, 2019. https://mydailyartdisplay.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/the-life-of-man-by-ja....
  4. "Jan Steen." The Leiden Collection. Accessed July 23, 2019. https://www.theleidencollection.com/artists/jan-steen/.
  5. "A Discussion of The Merry Family by Jan Steen." TripImprover. Accessed June 28, 2019. https://www.tripimprover.com/blog/the-merry-family-by-jan-steen.
  6. "Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)." Jan Vermeer: Dutch Genre-Painter, Portrait Artist, Delft School. Accessed July 23, 2019. http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/old-masters/jan-vermeer.htm.

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about Jan Steen

Jan Havickszoon Steen (c. 1626 – buried 3 February 1679) was a Dutch Golden Age painter, one of the leading genre painters of the 17th century. His works are known for their psychological insight, sense of humour and abundance of colour.

Life

Steen was born in Leiden, a town in Southern Holland, where his well-to-do, Catholic family were brewers who ran the tavern The Red Halbert for two generations. Steen's father even leased him a brewery of his own in Delft from the years 1654 until 1657. He was the eldest of eight or more children. Like his even more famous contemporary Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Steen attended the Latin school and became a student in Leiden. He received his painterly education from Nicolaes Knupfer (1603–1660), a German painter of historical and figurative scenes in Utrecht. Influences of Knupfer can be found in Steen's use of composition and colour. Other sources of inspiration were Adriaen van Ostade and Isaac van Ostade, painters of rural scenes, who lived in Haarlem. Whether Steen actually studied with Ostade is not known.

In 1648 Jan Steen and Gabriël Metsu founded the painters' Guild of Saint Luke at Leiden. Soon after he became an assistant to the renowned landscape painter Jan van Goyen (1596–1656), and moved into his house on the Bierkade in The Hague. On Oct 3, 1649 he married van Goyen's daughter Margriet, with whom he would have eight children. Steen worked with his father-in-law until 1654, when he moved to Delft, where he ran the brewery De Slang ("The Snake") for three years without much success. After the explosion in Delft in 1654 the art market was depressed, but Steen painted A Burgomaster of Delft and his daughter. It does not seem to be clear if this painting should be called a portrait or a genre work.

Steen lived in Warmond, just north of Leiden, from 1656 till 1660 and in Haarlem from 1660 till 1670 and in both periods he was especially productive. In 1670, after the death of his wife in 1669 and his father in 1670, Steen moved back to Leiden, where he stayed the rest of his life. When the art market collapsed in 1672, called the Year of Disaster, Steen opened a tavern. In April 1673 he married Maria van Egmont, who gave him another child. In 1674 he became president of the Saint Lucas Guild. Frans van Mieris (1635- 1681) became one of his drinking companions. He died in Leiden in 1679 and was interred in a family grave in the Pieterskerk.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Jan Steen.