The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Merrymaking in a Tavern
  • Jan Steen (1626 - 1679)
  • Merrymaking in a Tavern
  • Netherlands
  • probably 1674
  • Painting
  • Oil on canvas
  • Image size: 73.3 x 65.9 cm
  • Signature: 'JS' in monogram
  • P158
  • East Galleries II
Further Reading
  • The son of a brewer, in 1647 Jan Steen began his professional training as a painter. He is thought to have studied with Jan van Goyen and Adriaen van Ostade, whose low-life genre pictures greatly influenced his early works. Steen’s Merrymaking in a Tavern combines the Flemish tradition of low-life tavern scenes with the more elegant Dutch merry companies. The lively description of the domestic muddle of mothers, children, dancers, drinkers and onlookers vividly creates a scene of good-natured confusion. The lack of a central motif reinforces the work’s naturalistic appearance, yet the composition is very carefully constructed around a group of selected incidents. A key hangs on the back wall of the tavern, suspended between a young dancing couple on the right and an older quarrelsome couple on the left, as a warning of where dancing might lead. The variety of human life is depicted, with an old woman praying next to a young boy at a table, an amorous seated couple, a bagpipe player, a group of men drinking on the right and a mother, baby and crouching boy in the foreground. Each of these characters serves as an example of human conduct at different ages.