Jan Steen (1626-1679, Dutch) was a painter of the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. He is known for including humor and metaphor into his works. Born in Leiden into a well off Catholic family, he was the oldest of his siblings. Even though his father ran a brewery, Steen was interested in art and studied under Nicolaes Knupfer, a German painter in Utrecht. Knupfer influenced Steen on his use of composition and color. Steen was friends with Gabriël Metsu and both founded the painters’ Guild of Saint Luke in Leiden. From 1649-1660 he married his first wife and moved to several different cities and even tried to run a brewery without success. His most prolific painting period was from 1660-1670. With the collapse of the art market in 1672 , Steen opened a tavern. In 1679 Steen died in Leiden.
As with most Dutch genre paintings, Steen’s were focused on daily life. The use of cats in his paintings was symbolic of their being a harbinger of danger or of misconduct, meant as a message of warning. Many of his compositions expressed a moral, not unlike other 17th century painters such as Judith Leyster. He used members of his family, self-portraits of himself, as well as his own household as models. In fact, a messy household came to be known as a “Jan Steen household”. Steen paid special attention to light and detail especially in painting Persian carpets and textiles. During his lifetime Steen produced approximately 800 paintings, but only about 350 have survived or are known to still exist today.