At that time Rembrandt was at the height of his career and took Maes, as well as J. Levecq and Samuel van Hoogstraten (all from Dordrecht) as pupils.
Maes' painting style became so influenced by his teacher, that many works from his hands were accredited to Rembrandt at a later time.
In 1653, when Maes was 20, he went back to Dordrecht. There he married Adriana Brouwer, the widow of minister Arn. de Gelder. She already had two children and had three more with Nicolaes, of which one died at a very young age.
Maes' most creative years were between 1655 and 1665. He was well-known for his genre pieces and several biblical scenes. After 1660 Rembrandt's influence slowly diminished.
After a stay in Antwerp, between 1665-1667, where he met several Southern Netherlandish painters, and spend some time with Jacob Jordaens, he moved (with wife, children and a maid-servant) to Amsterdam in 1673. He was then 39 years old. He had acquired a completely different painting style so that art historians thought for a long time that two painters with the same name were active during that time period.
Because Maes never had had any real commercial success with his genre paintings, he now made a name by creating fashionable portraits of well-to-do burghers and leading people. At the height of his career Maes was one of the most famous painters of his time. He excelled in capturing striking resemblances of the sitters. At the end of his life he was not appreciated as much. At that time Holland had been eclipsed by France.
His extensive life work contains more that 500 paintings.