Jan van der Zee

1898 - 1988

About the artist

Jan van der Zee was a Dutch visual artist who was born in 1898. Jan van der Zee has had several gallery and museum exhibitions, including at the The Groninger Museum. The artist died in 1988.

In the course of his long career, Jan van der Zee produced a vast body of work, extremely varied in both style and medium. His oeuvre includes paintings, drawings, lithos, woodcuts, lino prints and pieces of furniture. The Gemeentemuseum now plans to display part of that oeuvre: his graphic work.Jan van der Zee was born in Leeuwarden but lived for most of his life in Groningen. He had his first drawing lessons from Jan Mankes, and in 1913 started studying at Academie Minerva in Groningen. In 1916 he was called up to serve in the First World War and met Bart van der Leck, who later proved to be a major source of inspiration for his postwar work. In 1923, when Van der Zee joined De Ploeg, the Groningen artists’ association, he worked in a Constructivist style. Together with Wobbe Alkema and Hendrik Werkman, he offered a counterweight to the Expressionists in the association. Unlike the Russian Constructivists, who were interested in applying their ideas to society, Van der Zee was primarily concerned with the aesthetic elements of this visual language.

The compositions he created in this period are based on abstract, geometric colour planes and mostly portray buildings and landscapes. After 1926, Van der Zee returned to figurative work. His subjects continued to be the landscape of Groningen province and the city itself. Up to the Second World War these were painted in sober, gloomy hues, but after 1945 he began to use a much greater range of colours. And although his subjects gradually became more abstract again, they were never to be completely abstract. His art was always based on reality. Looking back on his life’s work, it is clear that the landscape of Groningen remained his main source of inspiration: farm workers and horses, harbour scenes or the industrial urban landscape. Another recurrent theme is the landscape and towns of the Leie river valley, an area that Van der Zee visited after the war and which made a deep impression on him.