Painting was encouraged in the family in which young George Martens grew up. He received his first lessons from his father who made seascapes. In 1912 he started as an apprentice at the Academie Minerva, where he met his later wife Alida Pott, as well as Johan Dijkstra and Jan Wiegers, with whom he founded De Ploeg in 1918. As an active member of De Ploeg, Martens took part in exhibitions, but also served on the board of De Ploeg. And although there were issues occasionally between him and other members of De Ploeg, it was an alliance for life. Martens remained a member of De Ploeg until his death.
George Martens started his career painting portraits but also often painted ‘en plein air’. He often worked with his friends from De Ploeg at Blauwbörgje and they also enjoyed themselves there. Martens was a pacesetter within the club. Martens, who was typified as a lazy painter, was interested in a variety of subjects. He registered what happened in his immediate environment but he was above all a city painter. He liked the hustle and bustle of city life and the dynamics of traffic. Martens led for a vibrant life himself. He rode a Harley Davidson and was generally fascinated by movement. He was the only one within De Ploeg to paint fast sports, such as motorcyclists on the TT in Assen, skaters or sulkies with trotters.
His way of working was full of spirit. He searched for form eagerly and sketchily, his expressive handwriting being driven by the fire of his sensitiveness. In addition to the drawing pen and the soft chalk, he also gave quick impressions of what he saw with the brush, and he sketched with paint. In the 1920s he briefly used the powdery wax paint, but from 1928 onward he exclusively used oil paint. Like other expressionists, Martens made woodcuts. However, he preferred the directness of the pencil or the flexible brush. The patient engraving of an etching plate was wasted on him.
Within De Ploeg, Martens was particularly influenced by Jan Wiegers and through him by Kirchner, who like Martens also made cityscapes. But while Wiegers showed the harsh side of urban life, Martens preferred cheerful street scenes, with colorfully dressed, gossiping women strolling in the rain or shopping on the Vismarkt.
Relationship with Alida Pott
As partners in marriage George Martens and Alida Pott have hardly been able to escape each other's influence. Yet, in spite of their artistic kinship, they both retained their own identity. In Pott's oeuvre we see no vibrant city or fast sports. And unlike Alida Pott, who often leaned towards the linear, Martens was interested in various issues and aspects of painting and he modeled forms with light and dark. In contrast to Pott's ethereal nude studies, those of Martens were nudes of flesh and blood.
Water as a motive
George Martens was able to develop, partly thanks to the encouragement of Alida Pott who gave him room to develop his career. After her death in December 1931, he lost his swing as an artist, exchanging lively expressionism for a quieter impressionism, a trend that also became visible in the work of other members of De Ploeg after 1929. Instead of city life he focused more on painting portraits. The sea also was a source of inspiration. Many seascapes were painted on his boat named Alida, which he had owned since 1931. After World War II, water remained an important motif, as well as the reconstruction of the city and the reviving nightlife.
There was great interest in Martens’ work. He exhibited until the end of his career. In 1954 there was an exhibition in Pictura on the occasion of his 60th birthday. The exhibition "Groningen 1918-1928" organized in 1976 was dedicated to Martens and Dijkstra, the two founders of De Ploeg.
Text: Annemarie Timmer
Cees Hofsteenge, Thijs Martens and Caspar Wechgelaer, George Martens en Alida Pott. Leven en werken, Groningen 1993. Cees Hofsteenge, De Ploeg 1918-1941. De hoogtijdagen, Groningen: Benjamin & Partners 1993. Doeke Sijens, ‘Het dichterlijk expressionisme van George Martens’, in: Ekke A. Kleima, George G. Martens, Henk Melgers, Alida J. Pott, Jannes de Vries - Bezield met meer of minder moderne geest, A. Burema et al. (eds.), Groninger Museum, Groningen 2003, pp. 16-31.