Jan van der Zee is one of the most talented painters of the Groninger Ploeg. Born in Leeuwarden, where he followed the HBS, he met through his drawing teacher Jan Mankes with whom he took some drawing lessons. After getting acquainted with the work of Bart van der Leck in 1919, Van der Zee opted for free artistry. He enrolled at the Minerva Academy in Groningen for the Surface Decoration department. Through the team member Johann Faber he met artists such as Wobbe Alkema and Hendrik de Vries. Partly under the influence of Alkema's work, Van der Zee would make his first constructivist works in 1924.
Van der Zee joined De Ploeg in 1923, followed by Alkema in 1924. Both, like Hendrik Werkman, worked in a geometric-abstract style. The three of them more or less formed the counterpart of expressionism that set the tone within De Ploeg around that time. In the compositions that van der Zee made in the 1920s, there was often clear attention to the structure of the landscape in a rhythm of successive shapes and surfaces. Mainly due to the negative criticism of this work, he returned in 1926 to figurative expressionism, work that was well received: (friends) portraits and landscapes in a sober and dark color, with a clear brushstroke applied in thick paint. From 1928 onwards, Van der Zee increasingly began to paint what would remain the most important theme for a long time: the landscape. Set up in loose keys and swipes in a light color palette. They mainly originate in the region between the Reitdiep and the Boterdiep and at the Paterswoldsemeer.
After the war, van der Zee again looked for a new way. In 1950 he founded Het Narrenschip with a number of friends, including Jan Jordens and Ekke Kleima, which in its short existence paved the way for a new art climate in Groningen. Jan van der Zee was always open to new developments, he experimented with different techniques and also applied them. In addition to brightly colored, figurative expressionist landscapes, in which areas of color were separated by black contours, he also made woodcuts, which were praised. The team biographer Jos de Gruyter called him 'an expressionist realist'. Slowly van der Zee's work shifted again in the direction of an abstract expressionism in graceful lines and shapes, whereby, as in his earlier work, visual perception remained the starting point. At the end of the 1970s this brushwork disappeared from his work. The constructivist element dominated again and the color areas were placed directly next to each other.
Job Hansen and Jan Jordens eventually found a connection with modern art in the rest of the Netherlands, Van der Zee remained loyal to Groningen and the Groningen landscape remained the pivot in his work. In addition, he also found inspiration in the landscape and the cities in the Flemish Leie river basin, which made a great impression on him through what had happened during the war and which he visited regularly.
Van der Zee was skilled with paint, cutting wood, all kinds of graphic techniques and monumental art forms and received various prizes for his work, the 1965 Cultural Prize of the province of Groningen. In 1986 the Fries Museum and the Groninger Museum held a major retrospective of his work. Until the end of his life, Van der Zee was open to innovation and experiment. This is one of the reasons why he is considered one of the most important post-war artists in Groningen. According to Henk van Os, he was one of the former Team Members who 'has kept the openness to evolve throughout his life.'