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Highlights

Mask, 600-400 BC, Middelstum
Mask, 600-400 B.C
Found in the mound of Middelstum Boerdamsterweg
This half, earthenware mask was found in the settlement Middelstum-Boerdamsterweg and dates from around 500 before Christ. Its back is hollow and its edge has a small perforation, probably a hole for a string. It is not known what the mask was used for. It was found near a cattle pen and could have been hanging from a pole to chase away evil spirits, or maybe it was a sacrifice to the gods. For the settlement’s residents, the well-being of their cattle was a matter of life and death. Images of faces, clay dolls for example, dating from this period were found occasionally in the coastal areas in the north of the Netherlands, but this mask is unique.
Jeff Koons (York, PA 1955), Christ and the Lamb, 1988
Christ and the Lamb
Jeff Koons (1988)
Jeff Koons provoked outcry in the eighties with his provocative ‘kitsch’. Whereas some in the art circles considered him a devil, he continued to present himself as a smiling angel imperturbably. The only thing he wanted was, in his own words, “to return to people what they, deep down, find most beautiful”: luxurious, sparkling surfaces, sweet colours, loving and sentimental images. For this mirror he used a fragment of a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci (The Virgin and Child with St. Anne. 1510, at the Louvre). With some effort, the contours of the Holy Child playing with a lamb can be perceived. The gilded wooden frame refers to the late-eighteenth-century, extravagant Rococo. Koons plays a confusing game on the borderlines of high art and kitsch, religion and banality.
Michael Sweerts (Brussel 1618 - 1664 Goa), Boy, ca. 1655-61
Head of a Boy
Michael Sweerts (ca. 1655-61)
A boy is looking at a soap bubble floating right past his face. In seventeenth-century painting, the bubble was considered a symbol of transience, yet that meaning does not seem to apply to this charming scene. The sober, intimate painting is made by Michael Sweerts, of whom approximately twelve such stilled paintings of young people have been preserved. Some propose an affinity with Vermeer’s famous Girl with a Pearl Earring, but whether the two artists knew each other cannot be established. The Brussels-born Sweerts was a devoted catholic who worked in Rome for a long time, where he had many Dutch clients and received a knighthood from the Pope. He left for Asia to become a missionary in 1662. This, however, turned out to be unsuccessful. He died in India two years later.
Belt-fitting, 590-640 A.D
Belt-fitting, 590-640 A.D
Found in the mound of Ezinge
This rare piece of men’s jewellery is in the top ten of archaeological finds in Groningen and is the most important object from the Merovingian period known so far. In the sixth and seventh century the local rulers of the Frisian lands, to which the Groningen coastal area belonged, were identifiable by their golden and silver jewellery. One of those rulers lived on the Ezinge mound, where this peg was found. It was part of a belt-fitting to which a scabbard could be attached. The peg consists of a hollow silver pyramid, coated with gold by a cloisonné technique, set with almandine (iron aluminium silicate), which has been partly preserved. Between the partitions the peg is ornamented with filigree. On every side a stylised bullhead can be discerned.
Michele de Lucchi (Ferrara 1951), Oceanic lamp, 1982
Oceanic
Michele de Lucchi (1982)
This is a lamp, even though it looks like an abstract sculpture at first sight. Although, is it abstract? Somehow it reminds of an animal. Perhaps it is some sort of sea snake, considering it is entitled Oceanic. Or do we see the chimneys of an ocean steamer? The design is simple, yet it renders numerous associations. The lamp is designed by Michele de Lucchi, a prominent member of the Italian design collective Memphis (1981-1988), without a doubt one of the most playful groups in the history of design. They favoured the ‘sculptural’ and associative qualities of a design over its functionality. Pieces of Memphis furniture are not just objects of everyday use, but rather beings that you live in your house with.
Wobbe Alkema (Borger 1900 - 1984 Kampen), Composition no. 3, 1924
Composition no. 3
Wobbe Alkema (1924)
Of all the De Ploeg painters, Wobbe Alkema was the most abstract. He actually was too introvert to take part in De Ploeg’s abundant social life and subsequently was only a member for a short time. Unlike his fellow painters he did not enjoy going out to paint landscapes. He would rather stay in his studio and mainly tried to express his inner moods. To do so, from 1922 onwards he exclusively used abstract shapes as squares, triangles, and circles. In Composition no. 3 these shapes, painted in thin layers of oil paint against a dark background, overlap. The painting shows a harmonious amalgamation of counterparts: a strict shape language on the one hand, a rich, warm colour palette on the other.
Johan Dijkstra (Groningen 1896 - 1978 Groningen), Groninger May Fair, 1928
May Fair in Groningen
Johan Dijkstra (1928)
The May Fair has been causing a stir in Groningen ever since the nineteenth century. Its most keen visitors were farm hands and servants from surrounding areas, who had a week’s holiday during that period and spent a major part of their annual pay on the fair. There was heavy drinking and it often was so loud the well-to-do class turned their heads in disapproval. The fair’s loose, jolly atmosphere is captured aptly in Dijkstra’s painting. The sturdy, expressionist brushstroke that is so characteristic for De Ploeg has given way to a much lighter, almost French touch. The big tent in the centre is called the ‘Kiekewals’ by the people of Groningen (‘cakewalk’ in English), which was driven by a steam engine.
Jan Wiegers (Kommerzijl 1893 - 1959 Amsterdam), Kirchner in his studior, 1925
Kirchner in his Studio
Jan Wiegers (1925)
Jan Wiegers’ acquaintance with the German expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was of major importance for the art scene in Groningen. In 1920 Wiegers travelled, with financial support of his fellow De Ploeg painters, to the Swiss spa Davos, to recover from a lung disease. This is where he met Kirchner, whose work – statures and landscapes, with angular shapes, in bright, contrasting colours – impressed Wiegers thoroughly. He would pass on Kirchner’s influence to his De Ploeg colleagues, resulting expressionism to flourish in the 1920s in Groningen. Wiegers returned to Davos several times. During one of his trips he made this portrait of Kirchner, painted in the style he was taught by the master.
Matthijs Maris (Den Haag 1839 - 1917 Londen), Girl at the pump, 1872
Girl at the Pump
Matthijs Maris (1872)
Matthijs Maris is, as are his brothers Jacob and Willem, considered to belong to the The Hague School. Compared to the others in this group – ‘sober’ Dutch painters who mainly painted in the countryside – his tendency to mystique caused him to be seen as a somewhat eccentric maverick. The young Vincent van Gogh was a great admirer of Maris: “It is dreamlike, but what a master!” This girl at the pump seems to be sunk in thought. She appears not to be looking at what she is doing, as the jet of water misses the jar. It is probably Gretchen from Goethe’s Faust depicted here. The story contains a scene in which Gretchen is at the village’s pump when she hears a rumour about a girl who was seduced and left on her own with a child. At this moment she already knows she is expecting Faust’s child and is deeply worried about her future.
Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577 - 1640 Antwerpen), The Adoration of the Magi, 1609/1610
Peter Paul Rubens
The Adoration of the Magi (1609/1610)
This is one of the absolute highlights of the Groninger Museum’s collection. Rubens made it as a preparatory study for a much bigger painting (almost five-metre-wide) that is currently located in the Prado Museum in Madrid. It shows a biblical scene, yet the actual meaning was of a political nature. The large painting was meant for the Council Chamber of Antwerp’s City Hall, where at that time, during the Eighty Years’ War, peace negotiations were in progress between the Dutch Republic and Spain. The symbolism is rather complicated, but in short its main aim was to show how wealthy the country could become if trade with other countries would resume peacefully. Even more striking than the depiction’s symbolism however, is the extraordinary virtuosity Rubens displays in this work.