Neither moralist nor social critic, Adriaen van Ostade was Holland's leading painter of peasant and low-life genre painting. His subjects included the village fair or kermis, village inn scenes, family life, domestic and agricultural work, and trades.
Van Ostade probably trained in Frans Hals's workshop, where the subject matter of fellow student Adriaen Brouwer determined Van Ostade's own themes. In his early work, Van Ostade depicted scenes of peasants engaged in debauchery using Rembrandt van Rijn's forceful chiaroscuro. Later, Van Ostade portrayed calmer, more respectable people in comfortable interiors with carefully structured spaces and picturesque clutter. By then, both he and Holland had become more prosperous. An extremely prolific artist, Van Ostade produced hundreds of paintings; over eight hundred survive. Van Ostade also painted portraits and still lifes and added figures to paintings by Pieter Saenredam, Jacob van Ruisdael, and others. After Rembrandt, he was the major Dutch etcher of his day. Van Ostade's watercolors, about half of which were made after 1670, were attempts to duplicate the effect of his oil paintings through watercolor and were in much demand. His students included his brother Isack and Jan Steen. After his death, Johannes Vermeer directed the sale of the vast contents of Van Ostade's studio.