The mood and subject matter in Steen's paintings range enormously, from intimate moments when a family says grace before a meal to festive celebrations of Twelfth Night. But to all of his paintings we respond in a warm and compassionate way to the ordinary figures he represents.

The Dancing Couple is characteristic of many of Steen’s paintings in that it shows people celebrating a festive occasion; here, judging from the tents in the background, the scene might be a village kermis, or fair and market celebrating a local saint’s day. Two figures dance while musicians play, people eat, drink or smoke, couples flirt, and children play. Steen included himself in the activities; he is the grinning figure on the left touching the chin of the woman who drinks from a wine glass.

Despite the apparent frivolity of the scene, the painting has a more sobering message. Steen was a moralist who often used emblematic references in his paintings to express the transience of human life. The cut flowers and broken eggshells on the floor, and the young boy blowing bubbles on the right are symbolic. Steen seems to suggest that earthly pleasures are short–lived and we should contemplate more lasting values, symbolized here by the church tower in the background.


  • Title: The Dancing Couple
  • Date Created: 1663
  • Physical Dimensions: w1425 x h1025 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Widener Collection
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Theme: genre, holidays/festivals/parties
  • School: Dutch
  • Provenance: Probably (sale, The Hague, 24 April 1737, no. 7).[1] Pieter Bisschop [c. 1690 1758] and Jan Bisschop [1680 1771], Rotterdam, by 1752; purchased 1771 with the Bisschop collection by Adrian Hope [1709 1781] and his nephew, John Hope [1737 1784], Amsterdam; by inheritance after Adrian's death to John, Amsterdam and The Hague; by inheritance to his sons, Thomas Hope [1769 1831], Adrian Elias Hope [1772 1834], and Henry Philip Hope [1774 1839], Bosbeek House, near Heemstede, and, as of 1794, London, where the collection was in possession of John's cousin, Henry Hope [c. 1739 1811], London; by inheritance 1811 solely to Henry Philip, Amsterdam and London, but in possession of his brother, Thomas, London; by inheritance 1839 to Thomas' son, Henry Thomas Hope [1808 1862], London; by inheritance to his wife, née Adèle Bichat [d. 1884], London; by inheritance to her grandson, Henry Francis Hope Pelham Clinton Hope, 8th duke of Newcastle under Lyme [1866 1941], London; (P. & D. Colnaghi & Co. and Charles Wertheimer, London), 1898 1901; (Thos. Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London); sold 1901 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park; gift 1942 to NGA. [1] For a discussion of the provenance of this painting, including the 1737 sale, see Ben Broos, Great Dutch Paintings from America, exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Zwolle and The Hague, 1990: 419 423.
  • Artist: Jan Steen

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