Jan Steen created nearly eight hundred pictures, many humorous depictions of proverbs, throughout the course of his career. A prosperous brewer's son, Steen enrolled in Leyden University in 1646, but by 1648 he was helping to found the Leyden Guild of Saint Luke. Steen is said to have studied with Adriaen van Ostade in Haarlem and Jan van Goyen in The Hague. He worked in various towns Leiden, The Hague, Delft, Warmond, and Haarlem and in 1672 he opened a tavern in Leiden.
Many of his pictures represent taverns and festive gatherings, but they often feature moralizing allusions. 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.