In 2018, it will be 100 years since a group of young Groningen artists founded Kunstkring De Ploeg. To mark the anniversary, the Groninger Museum will stage a major survey exhibition, Avant-Garde in Groningen: De Ploeg, 1918–1928. It will illuminate the cultural climate of early-20th-century Groningen, where De Ploeg was born. The exhibition will form the heart of a range of centenary events across the city and province.
"Since there wasn’t that much to do in Groningen when it came to art, I thought of breaking ground, digging up the earth, and I thought of ploughing. That’s where the name De Ploeg [‘The Plough’] came from." – Jan Altink, 1918
The Groningen artists’ collective De Ploeg was founded on 5 June 1918 in response to an exhibition of local work at the Pictura art lovers’ society that excluded a large number of young artists. Painters including Jan Wiegers, Jan Altink and Johan Dijkstra decided it was high time to abandon 19th-century ideals. Reacting against the work of artists like Jozef Israëls, Otto Eerelman and H.W. Mesdag, they let go of old traditions to seek new paths in painting. Vincent van Gogh, a forerunner of expressionism, served as a major source of inspiration; the artists of De Ploeg held his penetrating work in high esteem. The group’s creative development took a decisive turn thanks to a chance encounter. In 1920–1921, while undergoing treatment for lung disease in Davos, Switzerland, Jan Wiegers got to know Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a leading German expressionist. Kirchner’s personality and style made a deep impression on Wiegers. After his recovery, Wiegers introduced expressionism in Groningen. Discovering this new direction in painting had a formative effect on the artists of De Ploeg. In subsequent years, they produced the paintings that we have come to recognise as typical of the group: brightly coloured landscapes, dynamic city scenes and distinctive portraits.
The coming centenary year provides an occasion to look back across a century and compare the work of these young upstarts with the established art of their day. The exhibition will contrast top works by De Ploeg members like Jan Wiegers, Johan Dijkstra and Jan Altink with the art of leading traditionalists including Jozef Israëls, H.W. Mesdag and Otto Eerelman. Of course, works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Vincent van Gogh will also feature in the show.
A book recounting De Ploeg’s prehistory and genesis, Avant-Garde in Groningen: De Ploeg 1918–1928, will be published in conjunction with the exhibition. The book is a joint project of the Groninger Museum, Stichting 100 jaar De Ploeg, and WBOOKS. It will appear in the run-up to Dutch national book week in March 2018.
De Ploeg centenary events in 2018
The exhibition will serve as the centrepiece of a wide range of anniversary events in the city and province of Groningen, to include musical performances, symposiums and walking routes. Stichting 100 jaar De Ploeg is coordinating these activities.