Jan van Goyen, the oldest son of the cobbler Joseph Jansz. van Goyen and Geertgen Dircxdr. van Eyk, was born in Leiden on 13 January 1596. From 1606 to 1618 he apprenticed in Leiden, under the painters Isaac van Swanenburgh and Jan de Man and the glass painter Clock, and in Hoorn, under Willem Gerritsz. He completed his training under Esaias van de Velde in Haarlem. On 5 August 1618 he married Anna Willemsdr. van Raelst in Leiden, where he lived in the following years. On 13 March 1634, van Goyen acquired citizenship in The Hague, having moved there two years earlier. He had apparently become quite well-to-do by that point, for in addition to a house on the Veerkade that he bought on 13 March 1635, he bought other properties and profited from the city's rapid growth by speculation. He obtained additional income from flats that he built on his properties. However, he repeatedly incurred debts from speculation in tulip bulbs, and this forced him to rent his house on the Singelgracht, the present-day Dunne Bierkade, to Pieter Schoeff. Schoeff was the father of the landscape painter Johannes Schoeff, with whom on 8 April 1647 Van Goyen auctioned a total of 191 paintings from his collection, some of them his own. Close ties with fellow painters resulted not only from his position as landlord (for example, the animal painter Paulus Potter rented a house from Van Goyen from 1649 to 1652), but also through his daughters' marriages. In April 1640 Maria married the still-life painter Jacques de Claeuw, then active in her father's workshop, and six months later Margriet was wedded to the genre painter Jan Steen. In 1638 Van Goyen assumed the office of captain in The Hague's painters' guild; he held this office again two years later. He travelled to Antwerp and Brussels in 1648 and journeyed along the Rhine as far as Cleve in the summer of 1650. In 1651 Van Goyen painted a panoramic view of The Hague destined for the city hall. Nevertheless, his financial situation continued to be difficult: in that same year he asked for a payment deferral, and in 1652 he organised an auction of paintings in his own house in order to cover his debts. Another auction of paintings and graphic works took place on 13 April 1654. The painter died in The Hague on 27 April 1656 and was buried in the Grote Kerk. The debts he left behind were settled in the following years by auctioning off his paintings and furniture as well as his five houses and properties.
As one of the main representatives of monochrome landscapes, Jan van Goyen made an important contribution to the "realistic" trend of Dutch landscape painting. The many sketches he made from nature with swift, always summary strokes served as a store of motifs for his paintings. His extraordinary productivity doubtless had something to do with his financial difficulties. Only two of his pupils are known, Nicolaes Berchem and Adriaen van der Cabel; the latter's work clearly shows the influence of his teacher.