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Fun And Joy In Jan Steen Paintings

Jan Steen, Baker Oostwaert and his wife,1658, detail, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands


Fun And Joy In Jan Steen Paintings

Hello, dear readers of DAM! In the last few weeks I’ve had bad days, and I’m very happy to be back. To prove to you how happy I am, how about talking about happiness again? Today I want to introduce Jan Steen to you, and I am sure you will feel the joy of this painter!

If you are a frequent reader here, you may have seen our other article about happiness (read it if you haven’t yet). And now let’s get down to business: Jan Havickszoon Steen was born in Leiden in 1626. You must remember that Leiden was home to another famous painter Rembrandt Van Rijn. It seems that the water of Leiden had some magical qualities… Steen was born into a family who ran a tavern and because of that they were very rich which allowed Steen to begin his apprenticeship in painting early and draw his inspiration for painting from many jolly events taking place in the tavern…

Jan Steen, Self- Portrait Playing the Lute, c. 1663 – 1665, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain

The focus of Steen’s work is a joy. Take, for example, this self-portrait of 1663: I wonder what kind of song can make a musician so excited. Look at the artist’s smile, which is not only visible on the lips, but also in the eyes. Steen’s technique is excellent and it is likely that he had received his lessons from masters of German painting. Nevertheless, he developed his personal and very particular style.

Jan Steen, Couple in a Bedroom, 1670, Bredius Museum, Den Haag, Netherlands

This painting above is my favorite of Steen. Very dynamic and fun, and the pinch of humor in it is remarkable. Not even the pet was left out of the scene, which like many of Steen’s paintings portrays a cheerful couple (unlike other period painters who portrayed more sober and serious couples).

Please take a look at the man’s face in the painting. Would you dare say that this man does not think he is in the best of all possible worlds?

Jan Steen Paintings

Jan Steen, Baker Oostwaert and his wife, 1658, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Another painting that seems to me very happy is the portrait of the baker Oostwaert and his wife. They happily display the freshly baked bread rolls while a little boy plays a trumpet. The baker’s smile is very contagious and who knows how proud he was, after all, to be portrayed by a famous painter.

Jan Steen, The Merry Family, 1668, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Steen preferred to portray everyday scenes, which belong to the style of so-called genre painting as well as portraits. Take, for example, this group portrait of the Merry family. Everyone is excited, they play musical instruments and sing while they eat and drink. It seems that all that really matters is having fun. And if there is a little mess in the house? Who cares, the party is on!

Jan Steen, The crowned orator, c.1650-1675, Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany

The crowned orator is another funny painting. The men gather around the eldest (after whom the painting is named) to listen to him read. The content of the letter seems interesting. In Steen’s paintings, German influence is evident in the composition and choice of colors.

Jan Steen, The Double Game, c. 1660-1679, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

In 1654, a few years after working in his father-in-law’s guild, Steen opened his own brewery. He lived in many cities but after his wife’s death in 1670, he returned to Leiden, where he stayed until his death, nine years later.  And if you want to know more about this painter, read here.

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If you want to read more about Dutch genre painting, check out:

Someone who believes, through reading and intuition, that the history of art is the true history of humanity. In love with Renaissance art and a huge fan of the Impressionists.


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