Painter, etcher, commercial artist, draughtsman, still-life painter and genre painter
Jan Miense Molenaer was born in 1610 as the oldest son of the tailor Jan Mientsen and his second wife, Grietge Adriaensdr. His birthdate is learned only from a 1637 document that gives his age as twenty-seven. Frans Hals is repeatedly named as his teacher, although the influence of Hals's brother Dirck is more important. Molenaer's earliest dated painting is from 1629, and his first payment to Haarlem's Guild of St Luke is registered in 1634. Commissioned paintings attest that by that time he already enjoyed a certain standing. His marriage to Judith Leyster took place in Heemstede on 1 June 1636. Aside from money worries (Molenaer had apparently assumed some of his father's debts), an epidemic of the plague in Haarlem may have motivated the couple's move to Amsterdam later that year. There they soon fell into art-loving circles, for in the following year Jan Miense was already commissioned to paint a group portrait for the patrician Van Loon family. Until 1648 the family lived in Amsterdam, where Molenaer established himself as a painter of peasant scenes. Apparently their financial situation improved during this time, for in the autumn of that year they bought a farm in Heemstede. Nonetheless, in the following years Molenaer again lived in Haarlem. In 1653 he attested that he was the author of one of his paintings. It would seem that he worked with his wife and other family members, who had also taken up painting careers, in a kind of family operation. Since his paintings were already frequently copied at this time, Molenaer emphasised authenticity as a sign of quality. The family's increasing prosperity is suggested by its acquisition of a house in Amsterdam in 1655 (rented out from 1658) and another one in Haarlem a short time later, providing additional income to that from the sale of pictures. On 6 November 1659 Molenaer wrote his will together with his wife, who died three months later. In 1663 he moved to Haarlem for good with his two children, Helena and Constantijn. There he was buried in the Grote Kerk on 19 September 1668. He left behind a large collection of paintings. His sizeable estate was not settled until 1677. Jan Miense Molenaer painted mainly genre pictures. Even his history paintings betray the genre painter in their narrative details. For his portraits, frequently group portraits with genre-like features, the work of Thomas de Keyser served as a model. In the 1640s Molenaer concentrated on peasant subjects, in which he incorporated ideas from Adriaen van Ostade. A few drawings with village scenes date from the 1650s, and a few engravings are also attributed to him.