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Jan Steen, 'A Peasant Family at Meal-time ('Grace before Meat')', about 1665

Key facts
Full title A Peasant Family at Meal-time ('Grace before Meat')
Artist Jan Steen
Artist dates 1626 - 1679
Date made about 1665
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 44.8 × 37.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Salting Bequest, 1910
Inventory number NG2558
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Peasant Family at Meal-time ('Grace before Meat')
Jan Steen

In a quiet, dark room, a little girl folds her hands to say grace. She looks straight ahead as she has been taught to do when at prayer by her mother – her gaze is fixed so that nothing can tempt her away from her devotions. Books of emblems and instruction from the church laid emphasis on the importance of the family in the teaching of morals and guiding the spirit of the child to the right path. For a girl, this meant marriage, motherhood and the family.

Jan Steen’s paintings epitomise the two sides of Dutch ideas of behaviour in the mid-seventeenth century. Many of his paintings take us into a colourful, funny, bawdy world, apparently to make an example of bad behaviour but also to make us laugh. He also shows us the gentle, inspiring life led by the good and faithful family, bringing up their children well in adversity.

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