On the barricades
The artists of the Groninger Ploeg are important representatives of expressionism in the Netherlands. These young painters rebelled against the sluggish cultural climate in the provincial capital, which held back any artistic development, and in 1918 joined forces in the De Ploeg art circle, whose aim was to promote Groningen's artistic life. They did this by organizing exhibitions and lectures and by publishing the magazine "Het Kouter", in which an expressionist-tinged sense of life and community was expressed.
The joy of renewal
Jan Wiegers is seen as the linchpin of these northern innovators. When he founded De Ploeg in 1918 with Johan Dijkstra, Jan Altink and Jan Jordens, he had already become acquainted with the work of the German expressionists during a study trip through Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. He put their pure colors and bold transformation of nature into practice in his landscapes and portraits. He meets Ernst Ludwig Kirchner when he has to cure in Davos, Switzerland in 1920 and 1921 due to a lung condition. In the work of Kirchner, co-founder of the German artist group Die Brücke, Wiegers connects with his color and form experiments. He develops a colorful expressionism, characterized by a powerful color palette and an idiosyncratic rendering of his subject, in which oil paint is exchanged for wax paint. When he returns to Groningen, Dijkstra and Altink are the first to give in. In the period between 1922 and 1927, Groningen expressionism came to full maturity, not only in depicting the agricultural areas with their peasant population, but also in portraits, nudes, still lifes and cityscapes. In relatively isolated Groningen, the Ploegschilders developed an expressive idiom that would remain unparalleled in the Netherlands.
And after that…
In the years after 1927, when the urge to innovate gradually consolidated, the Ploeg painters found a balance between the fierce forms of expressionism and a lyrical-impressionist style. For Jan Altink, Jan Wiegers and Johan Dijkstra, the Groningen landscape remains the most important subject. Other painters devote themselves to form experiments. Wobbe Alkema, Jan Jordens and Jan van der Zee, for example, develop a geometric, constructivist way of working within the four walls of their studio.