PhotoLexicon, Volume 1, nr. 1 (September 1984) (en)

Alexandrine Tinne

Tineke de Ruiter


Alexandrine Tinne was one of the first female photographers to earn a place of her own in the history of Dutch photography. Her fame is based on about twenty photographs that were made in the streets and buildings of The Hague in the period 1860-1861. These shots demonstrate a good sense for composition abd the effects of light. She also photographed in North Africa, but only a handful of photographs have been preserved to testify to her work there.




Alexandrine Petronella Francisca Tinne is born on 17 October in The Hague, daughter of Philips Tinne and Lady Henriëtte van Capellen.


Travels with her parents through France, Italy and Switzerland.


Her father dies, leaving his daughter a fortune. The legacy is administered by an uncle.


Stays with her mother in Pau, France.


Alexandrine lives in The Hague, at Lange Voorhout 32.


Travels to Copenhagen, Sweden and Norway.


Travels to Venice, Verona and Milan.


Arrives in Trieste, where she embarks for Egypt. Journeys along the Nile.


In the summer and autumn she tours the Holy Land, Syria and Lebanon.


Journeys up the Nile as far as Wadi Halfa, Sudan.


Resides in the Hague.


Alexandrine acquires a camera and makes topographic photographs in The Hague.


Travels with her mother and aunt to Egypt in the summer.


Journeys to Khartoum, and from there up the White Nile to Gondokoro.


Travels along the Bahr al Ghazal (a tributary of the White Nile) with the explorers Von Heuglin and Steudner.


Her mother dies of cholera in July in the marshes of the White Nile.


Returns to Khartoum. Her aunt dies in May. Alexandrine travels to Cairo, where she lives until 1865.


Rents a ship to sail to Toulon, where she can pick up her own cutter, De Meeuw, with its Dutch crew. Sails from Toulon to Algiers.


Journeys through the Sahara.


Publication of Plantae Tinneanae, with an introduction by Th. Kotschy, J. Peyritsch, Vienna. Botanical drawings of plants collected by Von Heuglin and the Tinne women.


On 1 August Alexandrine is murdered at Murzuk, Libya, by Tuaregs or by robbers commanded by Athman el-Baddi.


Alexandrine (Alexine) Tinne must have been a somewhat eccentric, very wealthy young Haagse woman. Her violent death has given rise to legends and fantasies about her, which have taken on ever wilder shape. For instance, it was rumoured in many salons in The Hague that Alexine’s wanderlust was the consequence of a disappointed love affair with the son of Willem III, or for a German diplomat. She has also been called one of the first female explorers. Her name is mentioned by famous male colleagues such as Livingstone, Von Heuglin, Rohlfs, Nachtigal and Duveyrier.

She saw herself exclusively as a tourist, travelling to the blank spots on the maps of the day. The call of the East was strongly felt in those years. Photographers like Maxime du Camp and Francis Frith had returned from their travels in the Near East with many photographs, which were published in 1851 en 1860. Around 1870 the Thomas Cook travel agency was one of the first to organize group tours of the Near East.

Alexine’s trips with her mother and aunt were large-scale expeditions: they carried with them thirty-two crates of furniture from The Hague, and one-and-a-half tons of beads as a means of exchange; a Tinne caravan sometimes counted 105 camels. The Tinne women could permit themselves such luxury, thanks to the capital that Alexine’s father had accumulated as a West Indian planter. Alexine’s mother, Henriëtte Tinne, arranged everything, made almost all the preparations for the trips, and recorded their experiences in letters and diaries.

In later accounts Alexine takes on almost the stature of a saint, because of the shock she exhibited when encountering the slave trade and the number of Blacks whom she purchased and liberated, who were then added to her personal entourage. Clara Eggink however has scotched this idealized image of Alexine In the picture she paints, Tinne was certainly independent and intelligent, but understood nothing of life in the East, and was egoistic, imperious and profligate. Brummelkamp and Jongmans suggest that this view is too unnuanced. Opinions are also divided about the importance of her contributions to the knowledge of geography, etnography and botany.

It was apparently the reports of her wealth that led to her death, while her caravan was on its way from Tripoli to the Nile region.

In addition to her reputation as an explorer and opponent of the slave trade, Alexine is also known as one of the first and best amateur photographers. This reputation is primarily based on a number of topographic photographs of The Hague from the years 1860 and 1861, just before her second journey to Egypt. She made her shots of palaces, mansions and avenues chiefly in the vicinity of her parents’ home on the Lange Voorhout, the grandest neighbourhood in The Hague. On 5 September, 1861, Alexine donated twenty-four photographs to the Vereeniging ter beoefening van de geschiedenis der Stad ‘s Gravenhage. The collection of this historical society was later transferred to the Municipal Archive of the Hague.

These photographs are not only interesting as historical documentation, but also because of Alexine’s photographic eye. She preferred subjects with almost graphic lines, such as the bare trees of the Voorhout or the Haagse Bos; it is not so much the recognizability of the place as the play of the lines of the branches of the trees and their shadows that fascinated her. She also is captivated by the effects of light and dark in the plasticity of her architectural shots. The camera angles she chooses provide balance and serenity in the photos. From the way in which Alexine defines the composition in her photographs, and is able to handle the perspective of receding lines, the division of the scene, and light and dark contrasts to suggest depth, it is clear that she must have had some instruction in draughtsmanship. Scenes such as her photograph of the Toernooiveld with the Mauritshuis in the background, or that of the Noordeinde – like most of her photographs presumably taken in the afternoon, because the shadows almost always run from the west to the east – testify to her feeling for and knowledge of the division of the surfaces of her images, and the effect of space. Buildings or trees in shadows, occupying large sections of the foreground, serve as a repoussoir, while the actual subject of the photo is bathed in sunlight, more in the background. In all her photos Alexine makes well thought-through use of the most specific properties of photography: playing with light and lines.

In that day photography was not something that one mastered easily. That Alexine had certain problems with it, can be seen from an undated letter she wrote to her young cousin: ‘car je photographe moi-meme maintenant et les tribulations que cela donne sont quelquechose d’incroyables.’ It is not known who introduced her to the technical aspects of photography. There were in that time already several professional photographers active in The Hague, from whom she might have learned the trade: the Delboy brothers, the Hille family, and J.H. Buckmann. In 1860 the publishing firm of Couvee, in The Hague, issued the Photographisch Album van ‘s Gravenhage en Schevingen, with twelve photographs by the Hilles. Several of the photographs from that album show great similarities with the work of Alexandrine Tinne. In most of the photographs by Alexandrine, however, the play of light and shadow is generally somewhat more refined.

Alexandrine used the collodion procedure developed by F. Scott Archer in 1851. Thanks to its invention, exposure times could be drastically reduced. The only disadvantage of this procedure was that one had to prepare the glass negatives immediately before the exposure. This was particularly problematic for outdoor shots, where one had to have a darkroom close at hand to immerse the plate in the necessary chemicals, and then develop it afterwards.

Contemporaries of Alexine Tinne have been able to tell us that she took and finished her photographs with the aid of a darkroom mounted on a coach. Tinne had the coachman and groom handle the heavy 36 x 45 cm negatives. According to tradition, the coach that is to be seen in a frequently published photograph of the Voorhout is the vehicle that she took with her on her photographing trips. There is however the question of why the shots she made close to her residence would not have simply been prepared and processed at home. The Amsterdam photographer Jacob Olie is known to have prepared his collodion plates at home. The negatives of the Haagse Bos, the dune on the Beeklaan and the Municipal Bathhouse at Scheveningen would probably have been processed in the coach. Perhaps the Haagse photographs were enough of a practice run for Alexine for photographing ‘on the go’ that she also involved the mobile darkroom in her practice.

The discovery of the collodion procedure was an important stimulus for travelling photography. The shorter exposure times offset the drawback of the ‘wet’ work. Alexine presumably also used this method on her travels. Henriëtte’s letters and diaries repeatedly mention Alexine’s photographic activities. But although she always had a camera with her in Africa, only a few of the photographs from her North African travels have survived. Perhaps that can be blamed on the heat. We know about the difficulties encountered in photographing in Egypt from descriptions by the British photographer Francis Frith of how the intense heat could literally begin to cook collodion.

Curiously enough, in Alexine’s estate there are no photographs to be found of the pyramids and desert landscapes, subjects which would have appealed to her greatly. What are found there are primarily shots of her travelling companions. Some ff the photos are cartes de visite of her Arab attendants, with the addresses of photographers in Naples, Malta and Algiers on the back. In an 1865 letter Alexine writes that she caused a sensation in Naples with her Arabs, and a local photographer asked if he might made portraits of them. Other shots of Alexine with her company must have been made during her stay in in Algiers, because the crew of her ship, De Meeuw, appears in them. The two ‘Equipage au desert’ shots reproduced show a remarkable similarity in the composition of the group. It is known that Alexandrine dressed the crew of her yacht as Bedouin and had them take camel riding lessons. She subsequently made ‘tableaux vivants’ of the remarkable changes in the lives of these seamen. There is another show known, ‘Equipage a bord’, in which the same men pose with a sail in the background, as if on a ship. The format of these photos is very different from Alexine’s photos in The Hague. Presumably she used a different type of camera on her travels.


Secondary bibliography

J.A. Tinne, Geographical notes on Expeditions in Central-Africa by Three Dutch Ladies, Transactions of the Historie Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 1864.

W. Sutherland, Alexandrine Tinne, haar leven en reizen, Amsterdam 1935 (met bibliografie).

C. Eggink, Alexandrine Tinne, een der eerste amateurfotografen, in Foto 12 (1957), nr. 2, p. 44.

J. Brummelkamp, De affaire Tinne, in Tijdschrift van het Koninklijk Nederlands Aardrijkskundig Genootschap reeks 2, deel LXXVIII, no. 4 (1961), p. 353.

D.G. Jongmans, Clara Eggink’s visie op Freule Tinne, in Tijdschrift van het Koninklijk Nederlands Aardrijkskundig Genootschap reeks 2, deel LXXVIII, no. 4 (1961), p. 358.

Claude Magelhaes, Evolutie van de kreatieve fotografie 1820-1880, Den Haag 1968, p. 114.

Klaas Graftdijk, De moord op een steenrijke, deftige Haagse heldin, in Het Vrije Volk 13-6-1969.

A. Holtrop, Reislustige 19e eeuwse artieste of nietsnut?, in Trouw 19 juli 1969.

P. Gladstone, Travels of Alexine. Alexine Tinne 1835-1869, Londen 1970.

Michiel van der Mast, Alexine Tinne, reizigster door Afrika, Den Haag (Haags Gemeentemuseum) 1974 (met bibliografie).

Auteur onbekend, Wereldreizigster uit de vorige eeuw, in Leidsch Dagblad 7-9-1974.

J. Kortenhorst, De waarheid over de dood van Alexine Tinne, in Het Vaderland 24-7-1974.

Jan Coppens, A. Albert, Een camera vol stilte, Amsterdam 1976.

Clara Eggink, De merkwaardige reizen van Henriëtte en Alexandrine Tinne, Den Haag 1976.

H. Mensonides, Een nieuwe kunst in Den Haag, in jaarboek Die Haghe 1977, p. 96.

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1839-1920, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978, p. 35.

J.G. Kikkert, Hoe ver we zullen komen, weet ik niet, Naarden 1980 (met bibliografie).


1969 (e) Den Haag, Gemeentearchief, Alexandrine Tinne, ontdekkingsreizigster en amateurfotograaf.

1974 (e) Den Haag, Haags Gemeentemuseum, Alexine Tinne. Reizigster door Afrika.

1976 (e) Den Haag, De Haagse Kunstkring.


Den Haag Gemeentearchief.

Leiden, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand Prentenkabinet.

Den Haag Rijksarchief (Familie-archief De Constant Rebecque nrs. 217-249).


Den Haag, Rijksarchief.

Den Haag, Gemeentearchief.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit.