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Leiden 1626–Leiden 1679
Steen is best known for his humorous genre scenes, warm hearted and animated works in which he treats life as a vast comedy of manners. In Holland he ranks next to Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals in popularity and a 'Jan Steen household' has become an epithet for an untidy house. But Steen, one of the most prolific Dutch artists, has many other faces. He painted portraits, historical, mythological, and religious subjects (he was a Catholic), and the animals, birds, and still lifes in his pictures rival those by any specialist contemporaries. As a painter of children he was unsurpassed.
Steen was born in Leiden and is said to have studied with Adriaen van Ostade in Haarlem and Jan van Goyen (who became his father-in-law) in The Hague. He worked in various towns—Leiden, The Hague, Delft, Warmond, and Haarlem—and in 1672 he opened a tavern in Leiden. His father had been a brewer, and in the popular imagination Steen was a drunken profligate, but there is nothing in the known facts to justify this reputation. Many of his pictures represent taverns and festive gatherings, but they often feature moralizing allusions, and he also painted scenes of impeccable genteelness. Apart from his versatility, richness of characterization, and inventiveness in composition, Steen is remarkable also for his skill as a colorist, his handling of salmon-red, rose, pale yellow, and blue-green being highly distinctive.
He had no recorded pupils, but his work was widely imitated.