The Suitcase Lady


December 1, 2015, 1:03 am


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In his lifetime, Jan Steen painted six large, exuberant paintings of The Feast of Saint Nicholaas. Jan Steen, the son of a brewer, was born in Leiden in 1626, twenty years after Rembrandt’s birth. It was the Golden Age of Dutch painting.

Steen was a prolific artist, creating over 800 paintings in his lifetime. Many of his canvases are genre paintings of happy people having a good time. He has been called “the humorist among Dutch painters”.

To supplement his meager income from painting, Jan Steen started a brewery in Delft and opened a tavern in his house. Both ventures failed, but they did provide him with subject matter for his art. Many of his canvases portray people drinking, merrymaking and uninhibited.

The Feast of Saint Nicholaas is a beloved holiday in the Netherlands which is celebrated on December 6th. The traditions today are little changed from Jan Steen’s time. Children set out shoes on Saint Nicholaas Eve, December 5th. In the morning, the shoes are magically filled with pepernoten cookies, gingerbread (speculaas), marzipan and little gifts.

Viewing  Steen’s lively painting, The Feast of Saint Nicholaas, tells the entire story of the celebrating. He used his own children as models…..the crying boy who did not get his shoe filled with treats, the little girl with her new doll and a bucket of treats, the child in the arms of his big brother who is pointing to the rooftop where Sinterklaas has dropped the gifts down the chimney.


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The Dutch have a phrase for a messy, happy, disheveled household, ‘Een huishouden van Jan Steen’……a household by  Jan Steen.

Every year, my husband and I put up our stockings on the night of December 5th. Here  is our version of ‘Een huishouden van Jan Steen’ the next morning.



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