Jan Steen
(Leiden 1626–1679)

Figures Before an Inn, Merry-Making and Playing a Game of Kolfspel

oil on panel
signed ‘JS (in compendium) teen’ (lower right)
49.7 x 67.5 cm (19 9/16 x 27 in.)
c. 1650

‘One does not know what to admire more: the perfect drawing, the exquisite composition, the harmonious colour, or the funny expression of character. As character painter, Jan Steen has not been surpassed by anyone.’

Abraham Bredius, “Jan Steen”, Elsevier Illustrated Magazine (1907), p. 14.

Painting by Jan Steen depicting a group of people before a building, playing a game with a ball and sticks, with a landscape in the background.

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Jan Steen was born in Leiden, yet his exact date of birth is not known. He enrolled at the University of Leiden at the age of 20 in 1646, setting his birth date at around 1625/1626. Two years later, he was recorded as one of the founders of the Saint Luke’s Guild of Leiden. It is said Steen studied with Jan van Goyen (1596–1656) in the Hague, Nicolaes Knüpfer (1603–1655) in Utrecht and Adriaen van Ostade (1610–1685) in Haarlem.1

Jan Steen painted the present picture in the first quarter of the 1650s when he was living in The Hague and had just married the daughter of Jan van Goyen. Steen came from a family of brewers and briefly was one himself in Delft, so this subject matter no doubt felt natural to him.2 In this painting, the landscape is the more dominant element and the smaller figures are typical of Steen’s early career, as well as a sophistication and overall mood that is more in line with his later work. From 1656 to 1660, Steen lived in a small town near Leiden, and his increased interest in still life details and careful finish of his paintings suggest he was in contact with the work of the Leiden fijnschilders, a group of painters who sought to reproduce reality in outstanding, minute detail, such as Gerard Dou (1613–1675) and Frans van Mieris (1635–1681). In 1661, he moved to Haarlem and in his nine years there he created his largest, most complex scenes containing emblems, proverbs and other moralising messages. He moved back to Leiden in 1670, where he was elected deken of the Leiden guild in 1674. He stayed in Leiden until his death in 1679.3

Notes
1. Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue (Washington, D.C.: The National Gallery, 1995), 1504.
2. Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Jan Steen”, accessed June 24, 2020 from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jan-Havickszoon-Steen.
3. Wheelock, Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, 1504–1505.

Prof. Dr Jan Bleuland, Utrecht (1756–1838);
his deceased sale; Lamme, Utrecht, 6 May 1839, lot 309 for 880 florins.
Gerard Munnicks van Cleeff (1797–1860), Utrecht;
his deceased sale; Paris, Hôtel Druout, 4 April 1864, lot 88, for 3,350 francs.
Ernest C. Innes, Esq., The Boltons, London;
sold by the order of the executors of Mrs. Ernest C. Innes (+); Christie’s, London, 13 December 1935, lot 154, to ‘M. Asscher, London’.
with Firma D. Katz, Dieren, 1935.
Mrs. A. Ongering-Schwarte (1890–1967), by 1958;
by whom sold; Sotheby’s, London, 26 March 1969, lot 81, for £20,000 to Tan Bunzl.
Miss A. C. Innes;
sold by order of her Executors; Christie’s, London, 7 July 1972, lot 26, for 30,000 Guineas to Jermyn (according to Christie’s archive researcher for £31,500 hammer).
Mrs. George F. Getty II (b. 1930/31);
her sale; Christie’s, London, 28 November 1975, lot 87 for £26,000.
Private collection, New York, until sold;
Sotheby’s, New York, 12 January 1979, lot 126 for $85,000.
with Richard Green, London by 1980.
Private collection, by the early 1980s;
The Klesch Collection.

Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum, 1922.
St. Louis, Saint Louis Museum of Art, 1973–5.

T. van Westrheene, Jan Steen: Étude Sur L’Art En Hollande, The Hague, 1856, nos. 44 & 368.
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, vol. I, London, 1907, p. 198, no. 742.
K. Braun, Alle tot nu bekende schilderijen van Jan Steen, Rotterdam, 1980, p. 90, no. 31, reproduced p. 91.

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Painting by Jan Steen depicting a group of people before a building, playing a game with a ball and sticks, with a landscape in the background.

Hover to zoom to maximum level or click to enlarge

Jan Steen
(Leiden 1626–1679)

Figures Before an Inn, Merry-Making and Playing a Game of Kolfspel

oil on panel
signed ‘JS (in compendium) teen’ (lower right)
49.7 x 67.5 cm (19 9/16 x 27 in.)
c. 1650

‘One does not know what to admire more: the perfect drawing, the exquisite composition, the harmonious colour, or the funny expression of character. As character painter, Jan Steen has not been surpassed by anyone.’

Abraham Bredius, “Jan Steen”, Elsevier Illustrated Magazine (1907), p. 14.

Artwork details