The self-taught Jan van der Leest only started painting at a later age. In 1940 he moved to Hengelo, where he had a studio next to that of Theo Wolvecamp and the sculptor Fokko Remmers. He painted landscapes and town and village views in impressionist style. Together with Wolvecamp he made a trip to Paris. He later developed the sketches he made there into paintings in sober, subdued colours.