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Jan Steen, Skittle Players outside an Inn

Key facts
Full title Skittle Players outside an Inn
Artist Jan Steen
Artist dates 1626 - 1679
Date made probably 1660-3
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 33.5 × 27 cm
Acquisition credit Salting Bequest, 1910
Inventory number NG2560
Location Room 16
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Skittle Players outside an Inn
Jan Steen

This sparkling little picture is unusual among Jan Steen’s paintings. We are outside an inn – The White Swan, to judge by its sign – rather than in its dark interior, Steen’s more typical setting.

The energetic pose of the man bowling suggests that he’s serious about his game and that, given a moment or two, the skittles will be scattered everywhere. His companions keep a close watch, while a little boy stands straight and gazes intently, a crutch under his arm. Steen has captured their moods and characters with the minimum of facial detail, their poses and gestures enough to tell us about them.

Steen’s paintings are robust and entertaining. Perhaps the fact that he owned and kept an inn brought him close to the people and incidents he painted, making them immediate, lively and true to life.

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