In 2018, it marked 100 years since a group of young Groningen artists founded Kunstkring De Ploeg. To mark the anniversary, the Groninger Museum staged a major survey exhibition, Avant-Garde in Groningen: De Ploeg, 1918–1928. It illuminated the cultural climate of early-20th-century Groningen, where De Ploeg was born. With more than 250 works of art, the exhibition formed 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 centenary year provided 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 contrasted 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 were also featured in the show.
A book recounting De Ploeg’s prehistory and genesis, Avant-Garde in Groningen: De Ploeg 1918–1928, was published in conjunction with the exhibition. The book was a joint project of the Groninger Museum, Stichting 100 jaar De Ploeg, and WBOOKS. It appeared in the run-up to Dutch national book week in March 2018.
Documentary De Ploeg 1918-1928
The completely renewed documentary De Ploeg 1918-1928 shows famous Ploeg-artists in their most significant artistic period. Jan Wiegers, inspired by Kirchner’s expressionism, brought innovations to Groningen. Famous artists like Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman, Jan van der Zee, Johan Dijkstra, Jan Wiegers, Wobbe Alkema, Jan Altink, George Martens, Job Hansen and Jan Jordens gave shape, colour and content to Groninger expressionism.
This film by Buddy Hermans (Stichting Beeldlijn) was on show during the course of the exhibition in the Auditorium of the Groninger Museum.
The Dutch, 'So Long H.N. Werkman'
Listen to the song 'So Long H.N. Werkman ' on the new album' Werkman 'by the band The Dutch. This animation video is a wonderful tribute to one of the most famous Ploeg members Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman, and is animated by Iris Frankhuizen. Artists' association De Ploeg was founded in 1918 as a reaction to the artistic climate in the city of Groningen.
The video with the song 'So Long H.N. Werkman ' was part of video screening in the auditorium of the Groninger Museum and was on the audiotour, during the exhibition 'Avant-garde in Groningen. De Ploeg 1918-1928'.
This video was made possible thanks to a contribution of the Groninger Museum and the Stichting 100 jaar De Ploeg, and support from the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Uitgeverij Rubinstein.
Animation by Iris Frankhuizen.
Paintings and ‘druksels’ (prints) by Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman.
So Long H.N. Werkman was recorded and produced by Martijn Groeneveld at Mailmen Studio.
Job Cohen was recorded at Uitgeverij Rubinstein.
So Long H.N. Werkman was taken from the album Werkman, released by Run The Story records.
De Ploeg centenary events in 2018
The exhibition served 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 coordinated these activities.