Schalcken was a pupil of Samuel van Hoogstraten and subsequently of Gerrit Dou in Leiden. Schalcken initially painted in the meticulous and precise technique of his teacher Dou, a ‘Fijnschilder’ (meaning ‘fine painter’). Schalcken later abandoned fine painting, but continued to be captivated by Dou's treatment of artificial light. In 1665 he returned to Dordrecht where he had grown up, and there his palette gradually became lighter, possibly due to the influence of the important Dutch genre painter Frans van Mieris. Schalcken’s genre and history paintings were highly sought after, and he was also regarded as a great portrait painter. Schalcken spent about six years working in Britain (c. 1692-98), before moving to The Hague, where he died in 1706.