Jan Steen

According to Kloek (2006), Jan Steen, who was a son of a brewer named Havick Steen, was born in 1626 in the Northern Netherlands.  He points out that Steen was raised in a prosperous catholic family and that at the age of 20 he enrolled in the Leidse University from where he ventured into art of painting. Inspired by German Nicolaes Knupfer who lived in Utrecht, he notes that Steen developed interest in and was taught on how to paint. By 1648, Steen had become a student of the landscape painter named Jan Van Goyen in the city of Hague from which he got married to Goyen’s daughter Margriet and had eight children (Kloek, 2006).

As pointed out by Kloek (2006), Steen’s witty moralistic scenery of domestic life has enabled him to become one of the famous artists in the Holland. He points out that Steen produced both religious and mythological paintings which depicted the themes encountered in daily life. Kloek notes that Steen’s outstanding domestic paintings became the moral obligation of the Dutch people as it depicted in the Dutch proverb, “a Jan Steen household”. This proverb according to the Dutch means busy but messy scenery.

Jan Steen’s artistic painting is the mark of true art in which one depicts and imitates everything equally natural. According to Prescott (2005), the comic genre of Jan Steen’s painting gives a realistic picture on how people depict and imitate everything in life either through their gestures or facial expression. This brings out the importance of Jan Steen’s paintings in depicting naturalism. As Tilman (2007) points out, the artistic naturalism is the sole role that an artist deploys in his artistic work to reflect the character and behavior of his physical surrounding. He notes that artistic naturalism requires that the artist neither imposes valued assertion on the nature nor does engage in common subjects that do not add value on the general population but rather create aesthetic pleasure. The write-up will address how Jan Steen’s painting illustrated artistic naturalism. It will also examine his creations and career in the relation to naturalism.

Jan Steen’s Creations in Relation to Naturalism

As argued by Boehrer (2010), the Jan Steen’s paintings were able to transfigure the ordinary physical sight into something beautiful. He points out that this gave admiration and celebration of ordinary scenes from the people’s daily lives. For instance, the Jan Steen’s painting, titled “The Effects of Intemperance”, which is well illustrated by the Dutch proverb “De Wijn is een spotter,” which means, that wine is a mocker, illustrates the impact of being irresponsible. Zuffi (2006) observes one of Steen’s paintings as depicting failure in responsibility by portraying a drunkard woman sleeping after excessive taking of alcohol and which is not even woken up by the cries and noise of her children. By this Jan Steen portrays that irresponsible behavior such as neglect can result into bad influence on everyone’s life. As Langmuir (2006) notes, Steen’s painting shows a child stealthily taking the purse out of the mother’s pocket. The Steen’s painting gives out the artistic naturalism of the impact of irresponsibility in the society as it can create opportunities which could result into illegal activities such as stealing.

According to Hecht, Galerie & Frankfurt (2006), Jan Steen’s painting gives a naturalistic image of the society. He argues that Steen used his painting in bringing out the natural impact of people’s attitude which in turn could result into destruction of the physical environment. For instance, Steen’s painting “The Effect of Intemperance”, which portrays an irresponsible drunkard woman dressed in expensive long leather jacket and shows her lit pipe just about to slide to her dress (Aynsel & Grant, 2006). According to him, Steen was subjecting irresponsibility as the primary cause of fire destruction which destroyed the life of most Netherlanders who lived in wooden houses.

On the other hand, Boehrer (2008) notes that Steen’s capture of parrot in his painting  “The Effect of Intemperance”, as most of the exotic foreign countries normally await for western countries’ influence. He points out that the parrot which sits next to the drunkard mother mocks and mimics the gestures of the woman as she stretches her hand to get wine or makes disturbing sounds. According to Rubinstein (2005), the woman in the Steen’s painting symbolizes western nation while the parrot connotes the exotic foreign countries. This shows that even though superior western countries can engaged into immoral cultures, inferior exotic countries just emulate such cultures and practice them. He notes that this clearly illustrates the evident impact of western immoral practices on the developing nations.

Impact of Jan Steen’s Career on Naturalism

According to Allard & Martin (2009), Jan Steen’s career did not naturally relate to his daily life. He argues that criticism towards Steen’s career was due to the fact that he did not effectively succeed as a painter as compared to being a brewer. As pointed out by Hussey & Ponsonby (2007), Jan Steen was not even troubled with the poor price paid for his pictures. Even worse was the fact that in most cases they were found in wine merchants’ houses. They note that the little gold payment he was getting from selling his paintings was also spent for buying alcohol. However, Steen’s career of painting has inspired the writings of famous Dutch biographers such as Arnold Houbraken who developed their writings from criticism of Steen’s painting career.

Ekkart, Buvelot & Winkel (2007) note that the Dutch biographer Arnold Houbraken points out that the riotous and disorganized manner of Jan Steen is the reason why he could not make more money out of his paintings. They note that Houbraken cynically simulated that he has been Steen’s best customer. However, Harris (2006) points out that a span of 30 years saw Jan Steen producing over 1400 paintings of which he incorporated the image of himself and that of his wife. He notes that Steen wanted to portray his naturalistic life in his painting. However, as Allard & Martin (2009) points out, Steen’s inclusion of his image and that of his wife in his painting at times showed immoral social influence of artists. For instance, Steen painted the image of his wife in the pub scenery which not only portrayed his wife as a drunken whore, but it also brought out his immoral social character.

Moreover, Walsh (2006) points out that Jan Steen’s naturalism of demonstrating his own disposition and personality in his painting helped to develop the careers of other poets. For instance, he points out that the Steen’s painting of Romantic rebels formed the centered stage of the work of biographers such as poet Heinrich Heine who refers to Steen as “the apostle of religion pleasure”. Furthermore, he points out that Steen’s painting portrayed his hedonic nature.


The write-up in addressing the impact of Jan Steen’s painting in enhancing of naturalism has highlighted how Steen’s creations and career demonstrate naturalism. It has made it clear that Steen depicts his personality and disposition in bringing the content of naturalism in his work. The paper has also noted that artists tend to use their personal experience in portraying the daily human activities, especially those which affect their moral standards. It has pointed out the need for artists to be cautious when portraying their images in their work as it can impact negatively on their social and moral well being. Moreover, artists need to sensitize people to the importance of buying their artistic works so as to encourage such educative portrays in the society.

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