Jan Altinkartist • painter • watercolourist • draughtsmanGroningen 1885-1971
biography of Jan Altink
Portrait of Jan Altink
Jan Altink, together with Jan Wiegers, Johan Dijkstra and George Martens, was one of the founders of the Groningen art circle 'De Ploeg'. Altink and a few of his artistic friends thought that the relaxed art climate in Groningen should be exploited. This gave rise to the idea of calling the new art circle De Ploeg.
Altink was an exceptionally talented student from the Minerva Academy in Groningen. During his training he already received prizes and medals of honor. After obtaining the M.O.- Drawing Act, he made a living for a number of years by teaching at drawing and craft schools in Leek, Middelstum and Zuidbroek and as a decorative painter. In addition to his free work, Altink designed advertisements and logos for Groningen companies and illustrated poetry collections, children's books and educational publications. He remained closely involved with De Ploeg for a long time and was a member until the second half of the 1960s. Several times he held the position of secretary and once that of treasurer.
Altink, farmer's son from a farmer's family, has always been used to working outside. That makes him more than any other Team Member the 'landscape painter' of the art circle. During his academy time he was already taught by his teacher F.H. Sent Bach out to record what he saw there. Altink initially painted post-impressionist landscapes, cityscapes and portraits in shades of gray and green. His work was immediately appreciated and was very well reviewed in the Northern newspapers at the Pictura exhibition in 1918. His work changed around 1922. He was often found with Johan Dijkstra, Jan Wiegers or Ekke Kleima at Blauwborgje, a farm on the Reitdiep, a river between Groningen city and Zoutkamp. In the 1920s it was a meeting point of the team members. Farmer Schuitema often baked pancakes and painted outside. At that time, Altink's use of color changed and purple, flaming yellow and blue made their appearance. Until the 1960s, the Reitdiep and the surrounding Groningen farmland remained the painter's favorite motifs.
In 1924 there was a breakthrough in Altink's work. He starts using wax paint. Oil paint was diluted for this with beeswax and petrol. Following the example of the German expressionist Kirchner, it was mainly Altink, Jan Wiegers and Johan Dijkstra who used this paint mixture. It dried much faster than oil paint and provided a matte appearance and full color. The period between 1924 and 1927 is considered Altink's most important expressionist time and his production was enormous. In 1925, Altink himself said of his bright, pronounced use of color: 'Things have no color. Only the light has color. '
After 1927, the tone of Altink's work changed. His color palette is often limited to just three or four colors that he uses to suggest light and space in his landscapes. After moving to the south of the city of Groningen in 1933, the typical clay land disappears as a motif and he focuses more on the North Drenthe landscape and the Paterswoldse Meer. The new environment also has an effect on the painter's use of color, which was described in the Groninger Dagblad of October 6, 1938 as 'a warm-colored Impressionism, which is darker and less robust than his earlier work'. Under the influence of the depressing circumstances of the war years, Altink applied more brown and gray in those years, and his still lifes, on which he often worked at night, also look dark.
After the war, Altink and other members of De Ploeg were given more space to make foreign trips. Jan went to the South of France in 1946, later also to Switzerland, probably on the advice of Jan Wiegers. The new landscapes, the light and the colors presented a completely new challenge. Director of the Groninger museum Jos de Gruyter increased awareness of De Ploeg's work and organized exhibitions that were not only shown in Groningen, but also in the west and south of the country. After Altink's death in 1971, the Frans Hals Museum dedicated a major retrospective to one of the artists of the first hour of De Ploeg.