Jos de Gruyter (1899-1979) will be the focus of attention in the Ploeg Pavillion of the Groninger Museum. It will be 50 years ago, in 2005, that De Gruyter was appointed director of the Groninger Museum (1955-1963). His autobiography 'Bewust leven' (Living Consciously) will be published in November 2004.
The exhibition has a chronological set-up and includes works from the sixteenth century (Jan Swart van Groningen), eighteenth century (Jan Abel Wassenbergh sr.), Dutch impressionists such as Isaac Israels and George Breitner; De Ploeg, Dutch figurative art from the inter bellum period (Charley Toorop, Herman Kruyder) and some of De Gruyter's contemporaries, both figurative (Co Westerik) and abstract artists (Ouborg, Nanninga, Duncan).
De Gruyter greatly valued nineteenth-century art and the work of Dutch lyrical-abstract artists such as Piet Ouborg, Jaap Nanninga, and Gerrit Benner. His acquisition of works of the latter three can be seen in the light of one of his main ambitions. While honouring the established names in the history of (modern) art, he was also bold enough to show the work of contemporary artists, which very few museum directors in the Netherlands did in those days. In De Gruyter's opinion, museums should do more than just conserve - they should stimulate, too. With this firm belief he formulated a goal for the Groninger Museum which his successors also adopted, each of them giving it a personal interpretation.
De Gruyter considered the work of the De Ploeg artists from the 1920s as a starting point for the modern art collection he intended to build up. He acquired works by prominent Ploeg members such as Jan Wiegers, Jan Altink, Johan Dijkstra, and Hendrik Werkman, constituting a solid basis for the museum's impressive Ploeg collection. This collection is still a major element of the museum's policy.
In order to give the expressionism of Groningen an international touch, De Gruyter also acquired works of foreign expressionists, though at a very modest scale because of a lack of funds. Two paintings by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner are the main items of this collection, in addition to works by Paula Modersohn-Becker and the Flemish artists Frits van den Berghe and Jakob Smits.