Willem van Leen was born in Dordrecht and went to study in Paris in 1773. He stayed there for three years and became friends with Cornelis van Spaendonck and Piat-Joseph Sauvage. After his return to Rotterdam, he travelled to Paris again in 1787 but left France at the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. During his Dutch period, he exclusively painted still-lifes of flowers and fruit. His miniatures are very rare; one, mounted on the lid of a box, is recorded in the Sypesteyn Foundation in Loosdrecht, and another one, a circular fixé-sous-verre, is in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (inv. no. A4111).