Born in Haarlem in the Netherlands, Molenaer was a Dutch genre painter whose style was a precursor to Jan Steen’s (1626 – 1679) work during Dutch Golden Age painting. He shared a studio with his wife, Judith Leyster (1609 – 1660), also a genre painter, as well as a portraitist and painter of still-life. Both Molenaer and Leyster may have been pupils of the successful Dutch painter, Frans Hals (1580 – 1666).
Molenaer achieved a style close to Hals early on in his career, but later developed a style like that of Dutch genre painter, Adriaen van Ostade (1610 – 1685). His genre works often depicted players of music, such as his The Music Makers (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest), The Duet (Seattle Art Museum), or Family Making Music (Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem). Common to the everyday scenes of genre works, he also depicted taverns, such as Peasants at the Tavern (Uffizi Gallery, Florence) and the activities of card games, as in his, Card Players (Currier Museum, Manchester, U.S) or games of the times such as La main chaude, (in Dutch, Handjeklap, which literally means clapping hands). Molenaer also cleverly depicted biblical stories in his own time and surroundings, such as representing a scene from the Gospel of Peter set in a Dutch Tavern in, The Denying of Peter (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest).