About Jan Miense Molenaer
Haarlem 1609/10 – 1668 Haarlem
Jan Miense Molenaer specialised in genre scenes, but his oeuvre also extends into portraiture, history painting and scenes of contemporary theatre.
He was a pupil of Frans Hals, possibly also of his younger brother Dirk Hals.
He was active in Haarlem and in nearby Heemstede (1629-1636, 1648-1655, 1657-1668) and in Amsterdam (1637-1648, 1655-1656).
Molenaer seems to have had a pugnacious and generally unpleasant character: disputes over relatively insignificant matters and amounts became a second occupation. When he was not suing others for non payment, his own property was being confiscated. Although he was constantly fighting over finances with his creditors the inventory of his possessions made after his death suggests he was rich.
In 1636 he married Judith Leyster (1609-1660), one of the most famous female painters of the 17th century. She sacrificed her successful career for family life.
There is a marked difference between Molenaer’s early and late pictures, both in subject matter and in style. Molenaer also changed the format of his signature, making his mark in script rather than in the block letters he used in the early part of his career.
The early works are considered to belong to his best creative period, dating between 1629 and 1640, when he produced colourful paintings full of inventive symbolism, wit and humour, influenced by Frans Hals.
After 1640 Molenaer turned to tonal colours, mostly depicting the behaviour of peasants, the ordinary life of the underclass. This change followed his move from Haarlem, where his financial situation had been desperate, to the booming metropolis of Amsterdam in 1637. In the highly specialised art market of those days Molenaer tried to become the low-life specialist of Amsterdam, aiming to get a position comparable to that of Adriaen and Isaac van Ostade in his native Haarlem. Such a genre scenes with happy merrymakers were both a source of delight and of instruction for the town population of the young, Protestant Dutch Republic. Usually Molenaer did not overtly condemn the peasants for their exceeding behaviour, except in one painting, a brothel scene dating from the period 1640-1645, from the Jagdschloss Grunewald in Berlin: he painted the skeletal figure of death in the doorway.
Molenaer’s move in 1648 from Amsterdam to a heavily mortgaged house in the village of Heemstede, south of Haarlem, divides this second period of creation in two. While his Amsterdam years had been years of hope, of a new direction in his artistic development, the paintings from his later career, after 1649, hold fewer originality and contain often recycled popular motifs of interior scenes. Still in these last two decades of his life his production was unexpectedly large.
Molenaer should be seen as an active participant in the Brueghel revival that occurred in the second quarter of the 17th century. He continued the Haarlem tradition of peasant scenes founded by Adriaen Brouwer and Adriaen van Ostade, leading to his younger contemporary Jan Steen.