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Expressionist Jan Altink

Jan Altink - Lyklema Fine Art

In 1900, Jan Altink was a student at the Minerva Academy and won many prizes and medals. In 1911 he obtained his diploma as an art teacher and earned his income by giving evening classes and as a decorative painter. In May 1918 he was one of the founders of De Ploeg. Jan was an expressionist painter. Between 1925 and 1932 he did advertising work for Vroom and Dreesmann. He also illustrated collections of poetry, children's books and educational publications to earn a living.

Jan Altink, together with Jan Wiegers, Johan Dijkstra and George Martens, founded 'De Ploeg' to exploit the relaxed art climate in Groningen. The imagination of Groningen is one of the major themes for the members of this artist collective. The symbolic name coined by Altink represents the plowing of the earth; developing new art. Groningen expressionism was a reaction to academic painting, which had to adhere to all kinds of traditional regulations. The painters of De Ploeg, inspired by German examples, wanted to shake off this 'posh' way of working. They opted for a direct, intuitive, almost sketchy way of painting.

Bloeiende Pereboom

Flowering pear tree

In 1933 he was a member of the committee for the anniversary exhibition of De Ploeg. Only after the war would De Ploeg gain national fame and with it Altink's works to a larger audience through exhibitions organized by the Groninger Museum. He remained closely involved with De Ploeg for a long time and was a member until the second half of the 1960s. He held the position of secretary several times and once that of treasurer.

Altink was a farmer's son from a livestock farming family and used to working outside. That makes him the 'landscape painter' of the art circle. Altink first painted post-impressionist landscapes, cityscapes and portraits in gray and green tones. In the 1920s, Altink's use of color changed and purple, flaming yellow and blue were introduced. The Reitdiep and the surrounding Groningen farmland remained popular motifs of the painter until the 1960s.

Jan Altink-Langs het ReitdiepAlong the Reitdiep

In 1924, following the German expressionist Kirchner, he started using wax paint; oil paint was diluted with beeswax and gasoline. It dried much faster than oil paint and provided a matte appearance and full color. Painting with wax paint was a bit like watercolor painting.

The period between 1924 and 1927 is considered Altink's most important expressionist time and his production was enormous. Altink himself said in 1925 about his bright, outspoken use of color: 'Things have no color. Only the light has color. Unlike the more driven and adventurous Wiegers, who in some cases approached the intensity of the Germans in terms of color and writing, Altink's work remained subdued in nature. His introverted character does not lend itself to vibrant, impetuous expressionism. Altink preferred to place the horizon high in his landscapes, which allowed him to emphasize what was below the horizon and make the landscape central. Altink's observations were generally careful and spot on, leaving out details and side issues as much as possible. His works are often painted in a single session, very quickly and with a flowing brushwork. Altink later added no details or elaborated at home. Depicting a high horizon was indeed done in Dutch landscape painting, but became quite exceptional since Ruysdael and contemporaries. For Altink it was an extremely functional part of his artistic repertoire, as can be seen in the painting 'Merchant on a country road' from 1925.

Koopvrouw op een Landweg-Jan Altink

Merchant on a Country Road

After 1927 his color palette changed to just three or four colors that he used to suggest light and space in his landscapes. After that, his performances become lighter and more thoughtful. His work developed from a Groningen expressionist formal language to a more impressionist style in the 1930s. Altink would be a mentor for second generation Ploeg painters such as Jan van der Zee and Job Hansen, who worked semi-impressionist in his wake. Jan moved to the south of France in 1946, later also to Switzerland, probably on the advice of Jan Wiegers. The new landscapes, light and colors presented a completely new challenge.

After Altink's death in 1971, the Frans Hals Museum dedicated a major retrospective to him. Auction house Christie's wrote about Altink: "generally regarded as the purest 'Groningen' of all Ploeg artists. We sell this work by Altink in charcoal and are always looking for works by this artist. If you would like to sell, please let us know.

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