Painted depictions of everyday life are a particularly Dutch phenomenon. Genre scenes – people engaged in daily activities in their surroundings – were popular in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 17th century. Painters such as Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen and Adriaen van Ostade were masters in rendering domestic interiors, merrymaking peasants and children at play.
In other countries painters tended to favour more elevated subjects and social classes, and accordingly looked down on the ‘crude’ Dutch tableaux.
Genre scenes sometimes contain a moral. Licentious pictures could be intended to caution the viewer against such conduct. At the same time, they were meant to be cheerful works gracing the walls on which they hung.
In the 18th and 19th century the popularity of genre painting grew in the Netherlands as well as abroad. The designation ‘genre’ originated only in the 19th century. In the 17th century artists used descriptive terms, such as ‘conversatie’ (conversation piece) or ‘een boerenmaaltijd’ (peasants eating and drinking).