Jan Mankes, who died of tuberculosis at a young age, was a loner in Dutch art. In 1903 he began working as an apprentice in a Delft glazier workshop and followed an evening course at the Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague. There he started painting birds. In 1908 he opted for free artistry. Between 1909 and 1915 he retired to his parents in the Frisian countryside. There he developed his love for nature and created small, finely painted landscapes, paintings with people, animals and flowers. His work is characterized by great austerity and stillness. It is dreamy, vaguely symbolic and, above all, vulnerable.
In 1915 Mankes married Annie Zernike, the first female pastor in the Netherlands in Bovenknijpe near Heerenveen. They had in common a religious background, literary interest and an almost religious experience of nature. They live in The Hague for a while, but then move to the wooded area of Eerbeek, which is said to be good for the tuberculosis Mankes suffers from. However, that did not help much and did not bring healing. When he was not in bed, he worked continuously on his oeuvre, of which he himself said: 'I tried to make beautiful things in all simplicity.' In his dreamlike paintings he managed to move the viewer by using paint and ink to convey the sense of wonder and the search for the soul of his subjects.
About a third of his total oeuvre was made in Eerbeek; soft portraits of his wife, still lifes, paintings of animals, drawings and graphics. Mankes was interested in all animals, although he had a predilection for birds. His paintings, balanced compositions, exude an ethereal, sometimes sparkling and sometimes somewhat sad atmosphere. Jan de Lange, who compiled a book about Mankes' correspondence, says: 'Mankes knew the world: without traveling much, he gained his knowledge by looking. His seeing is seeing with the inner eye. A lot of study is necessary for him, because he often had animals in his vicinity, which he studied until he fully understood their nature.' Manke's style is immediately recognizable by his powerful compositions with many small colour nuances of gray and brown tones and ocher in thin, transparent layers, using little paint and a lot of oil. The technique of glass painting will have served him well.
When Mankes dies, he leaves behind a tranquil and balanced oeuvre of about 150 mainly small paintings, about 100 drawings and about 50 prints.