Jan van Goyen began his apprenticeship at age ten and studied with six different masters. Only one influenced him deeply--Esaias van de Velde, a pioneer of naturalism in Dutch landscape painting. Van Goyen traveled frequently around the Netherlands and visited France. He painted river views and seascapes as well as city views and winter scenes. In 1632 he moved to The Hague, where he remained for life. Until about 1630, Van de Velde's detail, strong spots of color, and crowded compositions influenced Van Goyen's work; afterward, Van Goyen simplified his composition, set the horizon very low, loosened his handling, and let in the light and air. His paintings became tonal: In these monochrome harmonies of light greens and yellow-browns, the atmosphere animates the image.
By the 1650s Van Goyen's colors became more luminous, but he never moved too far from monochrome tonalities. With about 1,200 paintings recorded, plus etchings and drawings, Van Goyen was both highly prolific and highly influential. Despite his other career as a picture dealer, he constantly had financial difficulties and died insolvent because he kept speculating in land, houses, and tulip bulbs. His daughter married the painter Jan Steen.