PhotoLexicon, Volume 2, nr. 2 (March 1985) (en)

Peter Odijk

Hedi Hegeman


From circa 1920 to circa 1955, Peter Odijk was one of the most important portraitists of high society and the middle class in the Dutch city of Delft. Odijk was a photographer, but he drew and painted just as passionately. To a lesser degree, he was as well a practitioner of the graphic arts and sculpture. Odijk’s photographic oeuvre can best be typified as follows: a tendency towards pictorial effects when suitable for a given theme, e.g. with genres such as portrait and nude photography; clear and functional when required, e.g. with interior photography.




Peter Odijk is born on 29 March in Rotterdam.


After having completed secondary school, Odijk takes an evening course at the ABK (Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, ‘Academy of VisualArts’) in Rotterdam. As an apprentice photographer, Odijk works for various studios: Stoel in Rotterdam, Corn. de Jong in The Hague, P.W. Roemer in Rotterdam, and C. Bebelaar in Arnhem.


Odijk is the ‘operator’ at S. Strauss on the Korte Hoogstraat in Rotterdam. In this same year, Odijk becomes engaged to Jacoba Theodora van Delden, born on 29 January 1896, who was born and lives in Arnhem.

In Jena (Germany), Odijk works for approximately one year as ‘first operator’ for the photographer Tesch. A photo taken by Odijk but submitted under the name of Tesch wins a gold medal at an exhibition.


During Odijk’s holiday in the Netherlands, World War I breaks out. As a result, Odijk is unable to return to Germany. Odijk has the financial means to enrol in day classes at the ABK in Rotterdam. Here he meets Hendrik Chabot, a painter with whom he later becomes friends. At the same time, Odijk sets up a photo-enlarging establishment for photographers in Rotterdam. He produces pastels, carbon prints, bromoil prints, and miniatures up until 1922.


In October 1917, Peter Odijk moves to Voorstraat 64 in Delft. He is able to make enlargements at the studio of Piet Stek, a local photographer.


On 2 May, Odijk moves into the building at Vlamingstraat 50b, which serves both as his private residence and studio.


On 25 June 1919, Odijk marries Coco van Delden in Arnhem.


Peter Odijk opens a business of his own as a photographer/artist on the Vlamingstraat in Delft. His wife assists with the bookkeeping, administration, and reception.


In addition to portrait photography and painting, Odijk begins photographing street views of Delft.

1928 to ca.’30

Odijk becomes a member of the Haagse Schetsclub (‘Hague Sketching Club’, 1928) and Pulchri Studio, where he attends evening drawing events.


Toos Holterman is hired as an assistant in the business, which by this point is doing well. Besides various commissions, portrait photography, and painting, Odijk also shoots nude photography during this period.


World War II brings an end to the painting classes at Pulchri Studio. Hunger, the loss of electricity, and stress all make it more difficult for Odijk to do his photographic work, but the clients keep coming. Odijk has enough material to continue working and can sometimes offer portraits in exchange for basic necessities.


In the 1950s, the company’s sales begin to decline, and in 1958, Odijk decides to shut down the studio. He now devotes his entire time to painting, but continues to accept commissions for portrait photography on a sporadic basis.


On 29 March, Odijk dies on his seventy-fourth birthday in Delft.


Before Peter Odijk opened his own photography and painting studio in 1921, he worked for various photographers as an operator and independently as a photo retoucher and enlarger. In this way, he obtained a thorough knowledge of the technical aspects of the profession. Technical quality and meticulous photo finishing would always remain the basis of his work. Odijk’s education at the academy in Rotterdam gave him an excellent background in the fundamentals of artisanal photographic processes, such as fine printing (‘edeldruk’) techniques and the art of retouching. In 1921, Odijk opened his own portrait studio on the Vlamingstraat in Delft. It was there that he became known as a photographer by an extensive circle of clientele, primarily on recommendation. With the exception of an occasional advertisement, Odijk never presented himself to the public by publishing his photos or participating in exhibitions. This was in part out of modesty, but also because he felt that critics could form a threat to his source of income.

As an art photographer, Odijk was inspired by painting and drawing. Besides the retoucher Frans de Bruin, who was active in Rijkswijk, Odijk was the only person in the Netherlands that could make ‘red chalk sketches’. This technique involved drawing lines and circles by hand directly onto a portrait photo in chalk, in order to give it greater depth and shadow in imitation of a drawing.

In 1921, Odijk advertised with ‘enlargements in every process, pastels, watercolours, photo sketches with or without photographic background.’ Regarding the use of retouching as a tool, he wrote the following in the magazine, Bedrijfsfotografie (‘Corporate Photography’): ‘We all know that, in professional photography it is impossible to furnish everything without retouching, and from an artistic point of view, impracticable to present a high-paying customer with a bromide enlargement, only outlined.’ Extensive retouching was an acceptable artistic practice: ‘A good retoucher, however, is absolutely the master of his own work, and does what he wishes. (…) In order to retouch well, this requires no small quantity of drawing talent, and besides a feeling for tone and harmony, an impeccable taste as well.’ In the late 1920s, Odijk frequently applied the gum printing technique. Carbon prints, bromoil and coloured bromide prints followed in the 1930s. Later, Odijk produced mainly bromides that were lighter in tone and more precise than the fine printing processes, but his ideas concerning art photography remained unchanged.

The selection at Odijk’s studio varied from plain cabinet card photos to costly handcrafted portraits in an extra-large format. Various professors at the TH Delft (Technische Hoogeschool, ‘University of Technology’) and prominent people from the yeast and oil factories in Delft had their portraits done in this luxurious manner. Their portraits were often made with a spray-painted background, where a surface or representation has been added using a retouching sprayer via templates. Up until the Second World War, Odijk used a second-hand studio plate camera dating back to 1900. He later used a modern two-column camera for studio photography, and from 1928, a Rolleiflex for work produced outdoors.

Odijk sometimes placed the people he portrayed in surroundings that were suitable. Usually, however, he restricted himself to a neutral background in an anonymous studio environment. In spite of this limitation, he still managed to achieve stunning effects. Most of the portraits fill virtually the entire image, with a carefully chosen crop. Depending on the desired atmosphere of the portrait, the eyes look either dreamily into the lens or are directed diagonally to a point outside the image, with the face tilted up for a more dramatic effect—not to be confused with the more dynamic use of the diagonal as encountered in the New Photography.

Odijk often worked with lettering in his portrait photography in a manner similar to Henri Berssenbrugge. The stylish letters serve to identify the person portrayed and draw attention to the flat surface of the photo, as opposed to an illusory space. Applying soft focus effects and retouching work, Odijk deliberately placed the portrait in a timeless, ideal world. He was inspired by glamour photography coming out of the United States and propagated by fashion magazines. Godfried de Groot was his predecessor in this respect.

Around 1930, Odijk photographed his first nudes. Through his membership at Pulchri Studio, he had access to models. For clothed figure studies, his clients and ballet students made themselves available. Nude photography gave Odijk a chance to turn his interest to the representation of beauty, without distraction. The natural grace of the models, the dance pose, and the form of the attire are in fact the actual subjects of these photos. They are virtually always static in character, with most depicting very classic poses.

In contrast to portraits and figural studies, Odijk’s photographed his corporate reportages, travel reportages, and interior photos more objectively. His commissioned reportages featured the interiors of companies and institutions, such as the Spaarbank (a Dutch savings bank), hospitals, and the homes of prominent figures in Delft. Through a carefully chosen camera angle and an objective sharpness, these photos provide a clear picture of organisation and utility.

During the forty-six years that he lived in Delft, Odijk captured many of the city’s picturesque locations with his camera. He and his wife’s frequent trips to London, Antwerp, and especially Paris, usually resulted in ordinary holiday snapshots, but among these images, well-designed and original photos can also be found—an indication of the photographer’s alert eye. The documentary nature of these photos is radically different from his portrait photos and figure studies. The surprising clarity in these travel photos is comparable with the style of New Photography.

Different technical and aesthetic approaches were as well associated with the various functions of Odijk’s photographic work. His search for beauty in design and technical finishing is most predominant in his portraits, his nude photography, and cityscapes. In his vision, this entails suggestive poses, both soft and dramatic lighting, retouching, soft focus lenses, and fine printing processes. His travel reportages and corporate commissions, by contrast, are objective and documentary in character, in line with the movement of objective, sharply registering documentary photography that originated in the nineteenth century, which received renewed interest with the New Objectivity. The exceptional design that came with New Photography, however, played a negligible role in Odijk’s work. His strength lay therefore not in innovation, but rather in his personal style.

Besides a large number of photos and 30,000 to 40,000 glass plate negatives, 290 of Odijk’s paintings and drawings have also been preserved, as well as circa 500 sketches. Because of his love for radiant colours, Odijk preferred painting to photography. Throughout his life, he painted portraits on commission, frequently using photography as an aid. Odijk often painted for his own pleasure in the evening hours. Here he would instil his work with a personal vision, satisfying his preference for traditional subjects, romantic colours, and a trendy, illustrative design. This work is similar to contemporary fashion illustrations and photographs found in magazines such as ‘Het Leven’ (‘Life’) and ‘De Gracieuse’ (‘The Gracious One’). The lack of originality that sometimes threatened to overshadow his work is more than compensated by the loving attention, accurate characterisation, and consistent quality which together constitute a common denominator to be encountered throughout Peter Odijk’s oeuvre.


Primary bibliography

Peter Odijk, Het retoucheren van bromide vergrotingen, in Bedrijfsfotografie 3 (1921) p. 8, 10.

Secondary bibliography

Auteur onbekend, Belangrijke aanwinst voor Prentenkabinet van archief, in Delftse Post 17 januari 1979.

Flip Bool en Kees Broos (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1920-1940, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1979.

A.P.A. van Daalen, Peter Odijk (1889-1963), werk van een Delftse fotograaf-kunstenaar, Delft (Gemeentelijke Archiefdienst) 1982 (met foto’s).

Aat Zandstra, Gemeente-archief herdenkt Peter Odijk met expositie, in Delftse Post 5 november 1982.

Cat. tent. Zien en gezien voorden, Fotografische zelfbespiegeling in Nederland van ca. 1840 tot heden, Nijmegen (Commanderie van Sint-Jan), 1984, p. 12 (met foto).


1913 (g) Jena (vermoedelijk), Oost-Dtsl., onder de naam van Tesch.

1982 (e) Delft, Gemeente-archief, Peter Odijk (1889-1963), werk van een Delftse fotograafkunstenaar


Geen lid van fotovakorganisaties of -verenigingen.

Haagse Schetsclub, vanaf 1928.

Den Haag, Pulchri Studio, vanaf ca. 1930.


Mevr. J.Th. Odijk-van Delden, documentatie en mondelinge informatie.

Delft, Gemeentearchief, documentatie en mondelinge informatie.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet, documentatiebestand en bibliotheek.


Delft, Gemeentearchief.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit.