J. (Jan) van der Zee

Dutch artist Jan van der Zee was born in Leeuwarden on 16 February 1898. He died in Groningen on 15 December 1988. In addition to being a painter, Jan van der Zee was a graphic artist, watercolorist, draughtsman and monumental artist.

Background Jan van der Zee

Dutch artist Jan van der Zee was a son of Bridgekeeper Jan van der Zee and Dirkje Hulshof. The family then lived in the city Leeuwarden. Through a drawing teacher at the hogereburgerschool (HBS) in Leeuwarden he came into contact with artist Jan Mankes (1889-1920). From Jan Mankes he received drawing lessons.

In 1919 Jan comes into contact with the work of Bart Antony van der Leck (1876-1958). He then chooses to become a free artist. From that year onwards he followed a long-term course at the Minerva Academy in Groningen. Jan van der Zee was taught by Franciscus Hermanus Bach (1865-1956) and Willem Johannes Valk (1898-1977).

From 1920 Jan van der Zee and fellow student Wobbe Alkema (1900-1984) were painting in a geometric-abstract style. In 1923 Jan became a member of the Groningen art group De Ploeg. His geometric-abstract style would then develop into constructivism within De Ploeg.

In 1922, together with Wobbe Alkema and Johann Faber (1902-1979), he founded the agency Atelier for Artistic Advertisement (‘AVAR’). For this purpose they rented a studio space in the city Groningen.

Groningen art group De Ploeg

De Ploeg is an artists’ collective that was founded on 1 May 1918 in the city of Groningen. The members are mainly painters, but also musicians and literary figures. Jan Wiegers (1893-1959), Johan Dijkstra (1896-1978), Jan Altink (1885-1971) and George Martens (1894-1979) were among the first members. With the name ‘De Ploeg’, they wanted to indicate that something new had to be developed in Groningen. The name was coined by Jan Altink. He wanted to “cultivate” art in Groningen and thought of cultivating the earth. This requires a plough (‘De Ploeg’), hence the name.

In 1921 Jan Wiegers introduces Groningen expressionism within De Ploeg. He learned this new style of painting from the German expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) in Davos. After Constructivism, Expressive Impressionism is introduced in particular by Jan Altink.

Figurative Expressionism

After his Constructivist period, Jan van der Zee returned to figurative expressionism in 1926. His subjects remained the Groningen landscape and the city of Groningen.

In 1948, Jan van der Zee renounced his membership in De Ploeg. The basis for good creative functioning had become too narrow. Two years later, together with six other painters, he founded Het Narrenschip as an alternative. A regrouping of members of De Ploeg, including Jan Jordens and Jan Altink. Due to a lack of organizational talent, the artists’ collective gradually fell apart and was disbanded in 1957. Subsequently, in 1958, Jan van der Zee became a co-founder of painting group Group NU. For his artistic merits he received the Cultural Prize of the province of Groningen in 1965. In 1986 the Fries Museum and the Groninger Museum held a large retrospective exhibition of his work.