On 10 April 1945, just before the end of the Second World War, the Groningen printer and artist H.N. Werkman (1882-1945) was executed by a Nazi firing squad. Was that because he was making illegal printed matter? As an artist, had he become a civil danger with his production of art that was prohibited by the occupying troops? Or was he the victim of the panic and chaos that prevailed in the last few days of the war? The reason behind his death is not yet evident. But it is a fact that this day witnessed the termination of the life of an inspired artist, who would gradually build up a solid international reputation particularly after 1945.
In 2015 the Groninger Museum commemorates the seventieth anniversary of Werkman’s death with a large-scale overview entitled H.N. Werkman (1882-1945) Leven & Werk (Life & Work). This exhibition presents his printings and paintings, experimental printed matter, and the exceptional publications for De Blauwe Schuit magazine during the war years. Individual developments in his work reveal an artist who continued to renew himself, and who refused to conform to rules that other people imposed upon him. He gave his own connotation to concepts such as ‘abstract’ and ‘figurative’. ‘The result is in accordance with my nature, not with any principle’, he wrote to a friend in 1942.
At the same time, there was strong interaction between the course of his life, the time in which he lived, and the development of his artistic calling. His graphic background, economic developments, artistic life in Groningen and the rest of the world, the war years – the unique quality of Werkman lies in the answers he found in his art to these issues. The exhibition demonstrates that this is not only apparent in his work, but also in letters, portraits, photos and family prints. The exhibition also displays the hand press on which Werkman produced his printings. The toy press with which the brothers Werkman used to make books when they were young marks the start of Werkman’s career.
In anticipation of the exhibition, W BOOKS Publishers has issued a book of the same name: H.N. Werkman (1882-1945), Leven & Werk. In this richly illustrated book, ten authors guide the reader through the life story of Werkman. The book contains approximately a hundred narratives and a wealth of visual material. Werkman himself is represented by quotes from his letters and literary texts. The foreword has been written by Prof. Dr Henk van Os.
In 2015, the book and the exhibition form part of a larger cultural project that commemorates the 70th anniversary of H.N. Werkman’s death. Many activities are being organized at various locations in the City and Province of Groningen. With dance, music and theatre, and in lectures and publications, H.N. Werkman will be featured as an important and enduringly inspirational artist.
The Werkmanjaar (Werkman Year) is a joint initiative of the Werkman Foundation 2015 and the Groninger Museum.
The Werkman exhibition is sponsored by the Rabobank, the Woudsend Foundation and the Beringer Hazewinkel Foundation.