Jan Havickszoon Steen was probably born in the year 1626 in Leiden (The Netherlands). Like his even more famous contemporary Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Steen attended the Latin school in Leiden. He received his painterly education from Nicolaes Knupfer, a German painter of historical and figurative scenes in Utrecht. Influences of Knupfer can be found in Steen's use of composition and colour. In 1648 Jan Steen joined the Sint Lucas Guild of painters at Leiden. Another source of inspiration was Adriaen van Ostade, painter of rural scenes, who lived in Haarlem. Whether Steen actually studied with Ostade is not known.
Steen then moved into the house of landscape painter Jan van Goyen in The Hague, and married van Goyen's daughter Margriet. Both Jan's worked together for five years. In 1654 Steen moved to Delft, where he ran brewery De Roscam without much success. He lived in Warmond from 1656/1657 till 1660 and in Haarlem from 1660 till 1670 in which period he was especially productive. In 1670, after the death of his wife in 1669 and his father in 1670, Steen moved back to Leiden, where he stayed the rest of his life. Still in 1670 he married again, with Maria van Egmont, who gave him two children. In 1672 Steen, son of a brewer himself, opened a tavern. In 1674 he became president of the Sint Lucas Guild.
Daily life was the most important theme throughout Jan Steen's paintings, but he did not shy from other themes: he also painted historical, mythological and religious scenes, portraits, still-lives and natural scenes. His portraits of children are famous. He is also well known for his mastery of light and attention to detail, most notably in textiles. Steen produced about 800 paintings.
Jan Steen's work was valued much by contemporaries and as a result he was reasonably well paid for his work. He did not have any students, but his work proved a source of inspiration for many painters.
Jan Steen died January 1, 1679 in Leiden and was interred in a family grave in the Pieterskerk.