The De Ploeg Collection is one of the highlights of the Groninger Museum. De exhibition shows work by Jan Altink (1885-1971), Jan Wiegers (1893-1959), Johan Dijkstra (1896-1978), Alida Pott (1888-1931), George Martens (1894-1979), Jan Gerrit Jordens (1883-1962) and Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman (1882-1945). It comprises a thought-provoking selection from the extensive collection held by the Groninger Museum, that today numbers over two thousand works by members of De Ploeg.
In 1918, a number of Groningen artists began an artists society called De Ploeg. Early members included Jan Altink, Johan Dijkstra, Jan Wiegers and George Martens, who were soon joined by Jan Gerrit Jordens, Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman, Job Hansen, Jan van der Zee and Jannes de Vries, among others. Altink came up with their name – Dutch for ‘plough’ – as he felt that the Groningen art world would only be able to truly germinate once well turned over. It was an apt name: the artists’ take on art proved to be avant-garde in the following years, open as they were to a wide variety of fresh influences, which were all eagerly investigated.
Jan Wiegers – who had become friends with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner in Davos, Switzerland, where he had gone for his health – led the way in developing a style of painting that was deeply indebted to German Expressionism. In particular De Ploeg art from the 1920s and 1930s has national significance, due to the ground-breaking influence of German Expressionism reflected in it.
Another De Ploeg innovation was to take the panoramic Groningen landscape as a major theme. Their distinctive landscapes with high horizons saw the light, with roads and ditches vanishing into the distance. Expressionist shades and brushwork convey the vastness and unkempt nature of the Groningen countryside.
In addition to landscapes, portraits and city life were other favourite motifs of De Ploeg. The artists society also had a Constructivist school with Wobbe Alkema, Jan van der Zee and Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman as its main exponents. Artist-printer H.N. Werkman was unique in his approach to art, harnessing printing techniques in ways never seen before in order to create his ‘druksel’ prints.