Jan Rustem was born in 1762 in the suburb of Pera in Constantinople (now Istanbul). His father was a Greek (or Armenian) merchant and his mother was French.

Around 1774, he was taken to Duke Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski’s court in Warsaw. Rustem was also taught by Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine (1745–1830), who tutored the duke’s children in drawing.

From 1784 to 1790, J. Rustem was a court artist and worked for A. K. Czartoryski‘s daughter Maria Czartoryski and her husband Ludwig von Württemberg in Treptow, Pomerania, which belonged to the Kingdom of Prussia (now Trzebiatów in Poland). He used to travel with them to Berlin and studied art and painting there. In 1788, he became a member of Berlin’s Masonic Lodge.

In 1790, J. Rustem returned to Warsaw to continue art studies under the tutorship of J-P. Norblin de La Gourdaine and also attended the royal art workshop ("Malarnia Królewska") of Marcello Bacciareli (1731–1818). He later worked as a drawing tutor and decorator at different Lithuanian estates. He created his first theatre decorations at the estate of Michael-Kazimierz Oginski in Slonim.

From 1793 to 1798, J. Rustem taught Stanislaw Soltan and Franciszka Teofila Radziwill-Soltan’s children and was a theatre artist at Dziatlava (today in Belarus).

In 1798, he was appointed as an assistant to Franciszek Smuglewicz, the professor of painting at the newly-established Painting and Drawing Department of Vilnius University. He taught sketching in the department until the university closed in 1832 and also taught painting from 1819. In 1811 J. Rustem was appointed as an Extraordinary Professor and in 1821 as an