A small Dutch museum, but with a unique collection of paintings from art collective De Ploeg (The Plough)

In the north of The Netherlands the Groninger Museum is home to a remarkable collection. Sure enough, the have some master pieces, a Cranach the Elder, a Rubens, a Rembrandt that is not a Rembrandt anymore, and work of Dutch 19th Century painters like Josef Israels and Hendrik Mesdag, incidentally, both born in Groningen. The have a huge porcelain collection, and a silver collection nicely contrasting old against modern craftmanship.

‘Fishing Boats’ from Groningen-born Dutch painter Hendrik Willem Mesdag
‘At Mother’s Grave’, by another Groningen-born painter, Jozef Israels
and a beauty’ Figures on the Beach’, by Jozef’s son, Isaac Israels, contemporary with De Ploeg

But what makes the museum unique is it collection of De Ploeg (The Plough), an art movement specifically established in Groningen, in 1918, to promote what was then modern art. Although architects and writers also formed part of the group, the focus remains on painting, inspired and influenced by for instance Van Gogh, but also by contemporaries. None of the members have made it to world fame, but in fact their collective work is quite accomplished, perhaps somewhat under-appreciated in the avalanche of establishment-challenging art that characterises this period. Do go and have a look, if you can, there is no better place to observe De Ploeg than in the Groninger Museum.

De Ploeg (The Plough)

Portrait of Ekke Kleima, by George Martens (1924)
and Portrait of George Martens, by Ekke Kleima (ca. 1930)
Jan Wiegers painted Ernst Kirchner in his atelier (1925)

One of the elements uniting many of the “Ploeg” painters were their portraits, specifically their portraits of each other. They are often Expressionism-like, which was significantly influenced by the experience one member of the group, Jan Wiegers, who – like a modern exchange student – spent considerable time with Ernst Kirchner in Switzerland. And who painted Kirchner, as well.

Portrait of Johan Dijkstra, by Jan Wiegers (ca 1926)
and Portrait of Jan Wiegers, by Johan Dijkstra (ca 1927)

Landscape, too, was a popular subject matter. The hamlet Blauwborgje, just outside the city of Groningen, achieved almost mythical status amongst the group, but other rural scenes were also painted.

‘Blauwborgje’, by Jan Altink (1923)
‘Blauwborgje shade’, by Alida Pot (1920)
‘Merchant Woman on the Road’, by Jan Altink (1925)
‘White Horse’, by Jan Altink (1925)

Of course, in staying with the time there is also room for abstract work. Three of the group members experiment with a variety of compositions, sometimes linked to the Belgian constructivism of these days.

Jan van der Zee: ‘Composition Landscape’ (1926)
Wobbe Alkema: ‘Composition VII’ (1926)
Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman: ‘Composition’ (1929)
Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman: ‘Composition’ (2) (1929)

In the 1930s the group loses steam, many of the members return to more traditionalist work. However, some of them experience a revival in the 1950s, albeit on an individual basis and no longer in connection with De Ploeg. However, once again some of their work is very interesting and attractive; some of it also exposed in the museum.

Jan van der Zee: ‘Little Port’ (1959)
Wobbe Alkema: ‘Composition’ (1956)

Incidentally, the museum itself is also an attractive building, on a island in between the railway station and the old city centre. The brightly-coloured building, designed by Italian architect Alessandro Mendini, was opened in 1994.

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2 Responses to the Groninger Museum

  1. Thea Oudmaijer says:

    Een bezoekje waard zo te zien!!

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