Barbara van Houten, daughter of the well-known Dutch politician Sam van Houten, had the desire to become a painter from an early age. After briefly following a number of courses in Paris, The Hague and Amsterdam, she settled permanently in The Hague in 1881. There she became a pupil of her aunt Sientje Mesdag-van Houten. Barbara initially made a name for herself with her etchings, from around 1900 she also painted, mainly flowers, still lifes and portraits. The painter never became known to the general public, probably because she led a secluded life and rarely exhibited her work.