Heavy metal beats ‘greyer sky’. Interpretations of The Netherlands by foreign photographers 1890-1930
In 19th century ‘the picturesque’ became a real topic in photography of Dutch scenery, landscape and old cities. In recent years Dutch institutions have been adding more photographs by foreign photographers to their collections. The quest for beauty and the depiction of vast landscapes first turned into ways to express the sensation of photographing outdoors, and thus the atmosphere of the scene: ‘All is cold and grey for it is early spring and last year’s grass is only a shade deeper than the sand, which stretches hillock beyond hillock until they meet the greyer sky…’, James Craig Annan wrote while visiting the Netherlands. Pictorialists Alfred Stieglitz, Heinrich Kühn, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Robert Demachy and many others were to follow in his footsteps. This article re-examines the early interpretations, and observes crucial changes in the first decades of the 20th century, when modernism took its final turn.
As a rule, what comes from afar is better than what one brings home. Perhaps that is also true for the photographic observations that foreign photographers made in The Netherlands. For them it was a new and different country, which made their gaze more open. Who were they, why did they come here, and what caught their eye? Nadar visited Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum in 1858, when it was still located in the Trippenhuis on the Keizersgracht. In 1859 Maxime du Camp made a trip through the Dutch delta and recorded his thoughts about The Netherlands in letters to a friend. László Moholy-Nagy stayed with a friend, a painter, in Kijkduin in 1923. It is sad that these famous photographers never left us their vision of The Netherlands, other than in writing: no Dutch photographs by any of them are known. There are photographs by others, such as Germaine Krull (1925-1928), Raoul Hausmann (1927) and Henri Cartier-Bresson (1953). These photographers can be added to the list of famous painters who were inspired by The Netherlands: Turner, Courbet, Manet, Monet, Whistler, Moreau, and last but not least, Picasso. With his frontal nude with her traditional white cap, done in the summer of 1905 in Schoorl, he perhaps gives the Dutch genre painting its most surprising turn.
In search of these points of view, in recent years Dutch institutions have been adding more and more photographs by foreign photographers to their collections. The Rijksmuseum acquired Rotterdam (1910) by the American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, and a view of a Dutch windmill by the French photographer Robert Demachy (1912) (fig. 1 and 2).
Fig. 1. Alvin Langdon Coburn, Rotterdam, 1908. Photogravure, 302 x 391 mm. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. no. RP-F-2004-18.
Fig. 2. Robert Demachy, Windmill ‘De Eendracht’ near Alphen aan de Rijn, 1907-1912. Bromoil transfer print, 228 x 162 mm. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. no. RP-F-2002-100, purchased with the support of the Paul Huf Fonds/Rijksmuseum Fonds.
Later it was joined by the portfolio Métal (1929) by the German photographer Germaine Krull, with photographs of structural element, including components of bridges in Amsterdam and Rotterdam (fig. 3).
Fig. 3. Germaine Krull, Amsterdam Harbour, 1927-1928. Collotype, 233 x 170 mm. Plate 9 from the portfolio Métal, Paris 1928. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. no. RP-F-2004-264-9.
The Oudezijds Achterburgwal in colour, as we have never before seen this canal in a photo, was acquired by the Amsterdam City Archives. It is a grainy autochrome from 1912, by an unknown English amateur photographer (fig. 4).
Fig. 4. Anonymous British amateur photographer, Oudezijds Achterburgwal, Amsterdam, July 1912. Autochrome, 100 x 150 mm. Amsterdam City Archives, inv. no. B00000029277.
Several ‘Dutch’ photographs by Ilse Bing (1931) are now in the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum. New things are also being found in ‘old’ holdings. Surprising work by the Hungarian immigrant and filmmaker/photographer Andor von Barsy, from 1928, was rediscovered in the Rotterdam municipal archives. This article will re-examine the earliest interpretations, and several newer ones from the first decades of the 20 th century. What were the characteristic visual elements of The Netherlands and its cities that foreigners picked up on?
The picturesque, and recent research
The depiction of the landscape and of characteristic places (‘topography’) was traditionally reserved for painters, draughtsmen and printmakers: vast, panoramic landscapes, a low horizon or a dramatic sky, rendered in all their glory on a monumental canvas, in a rich palette. One’s thoughts turn immediately to famous painters, noted for their virtuoso brushwork and colouring. In the 17 th century they would have been the Dutchmen Jacob van Ruysdael and Jan van Goyen. Their work evokes something different for every age, but throughout the centuries it has been linked with notions of the ideal, the romantic and dramatic. In art history this quest for beauty in the landscape has been summed up in the term ‘the picturesque’.
These artists have had far-reaching influence: their paintings have become icons and symbols that have easily assumed a place in our collective memory. Down to our own day their work has been reused and passed on by both greater and lesser masters. For Dutch art, it is particularly the painting of Haagse School where the ‘old’ and ‘new’ landscape come together. It is fascinating to explore how photography, as a relative newcomer to the arts fared when it ventured into the same themes, because in the tradition of ‘the picturesque’ it was precisely photographers – and particularly foreign photographers – who often reached back to Dutch cityscapes and landscapes. The Netherlands was, as it were, a theme that fit perfectly into the tradition of ‘the picturesque’, even in the era of photography.
In recent years various new studies have appeared in the field of the Dutch landscape and photography. The new history of photography in The Netherlands, Dutch Eyes (2007), gives ample attention to both the photography of the malleable Dutch landscape and to the interpretation of the city by Dutch photographers. In 2008, in its publication Der weite Blick, accompanying the exhibition in the Neue Pinakothek, the Rijksmuseum compared the painting of the Haagse School and the impersonal engineering photography of the 19 th century. Today Dutch photographers seem to be rediscovering the low lands again. The New Topography, a movement which originated in American, was further developed and brought to perfection in Germany at the Düsseldorfer Schule. In a form of ‘slow photography’, photographers began to work with analogue techniques and technical cameras again, permitting space and light to speak for themselves in the horizontal ‘landscape format’, precisely recording the tiniest details. In Nature as Artifice current Dutch photography of the industrialized landscape was the subject of an important catalogue and exhibition at the same museum and the George Eastman House. The recent study Sweet & Salt (2011) demonstrates that visual art and photography of water in the landscape forms an independent sub-theme itself. Might it not be more reasonable today to speak of things being ‘photoresque’ – especially as we now live in a day in which the monumental representation of the grand photographic landscape, in the centuries-old tradition of ‘the picturesque’, is back again.
The Dutch tradition
One of the earliest instances in which we see a foreign photographer reach back to familiar examples from painting and the graphic arts in this tradition of ‘the picturesque’ is a series of sixteen Amsterdam cityscapes by Benjamin Brecknell Turner (1815-1894). Between 17 May and 3 June, 1857, this British photographer paid a visit of a couple of weeks to Amsterdam. From the set of his photographic prints and paper negatives which have been preserved, it is not difficult to deduce what struck and attracted Turner in The Netherlands. In her book on the first photographs of Amsterdam, Van Veen notes how Turner transplanted his British views about the ‘picturesque’ to The Netherlands. The photographer quite easily shifted his interest in the typically rural and the texture of the farmyard in the English countryside to the texture of the brick and untidy buildings in the heart of Holland’s cities (fig. 5).
Fig. 5. Benjamin Brecknell Turner, View of Keizersgracht with society Felix Meritis, May-June 1857. Albumen print of paper negative, 279 x 380 mm. Amsterdam City Archives, inv. no. 010003025108.
Turner recorded the crooked rows of houses along the canal in the monochrome (red) brown of the photographic technique of this era. The horizontal format afforded him the opportunity to look far along the lines of façades and the water. He sought to find the right composition on the ground glass at the back of his camera, where he viewed the image upside down and reversed right for left. He must have carefully chosen the ideal spot to place his camera along the quays and between the bridges, before setting up the heavy instrument on its tripod. Most importantly, he used the mirror effect of the calm water, permitting him to double his composition. The mosaic of tints in the façades of the Dutch city must have made composing the lines and plane of the image on the ground glass of his camera a challenging task. The appearance of the quays and backs of the houses was fascinating, and the canals and bridges offered many unexpected glimpses through to what lay behind them. Turner took the negatives, of which he did not make more than one or two a day, back home with him. Only in England did he make a positive print of the negative, and finally saw how his photographic impressions of The Netherlands had turned out.
The interest of visual artists in the Low Countries was anchored in a long tradition of topographic cityscapes, that also involved the international interest in Holland’s Golden Era. These views often were obligatory in nature, and had little significance from an artistic perspective. After the invention of photography, following on in the tradition of older books with topographic illustrations, like N.G. van Kampen’s Gezigten in Holland en België, naar teekeningen op de plaats zelve vervaardigd door W.H. Bartlett (1828), various series of topographic photographs were also produced, such as the stereo photographs by the Paris firm Gaudin (fig. 6),
Afb. 6. Alexis Gaudin et Frère (editor), Henri Plaut (photographer), View of the Keizersgracht, Amsterdam, spring 1858, from the series Hollande. Stereograph (albumen print), 84 x 164 mm. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. no. RP-F-F11710.
or the series by Adolphe Braun (1812-1877). The photographers from these two companies visited the familiar places and monuments recorded them, and frequently recorded them from almost identical angles. Their travels took them through the old Dutch cities of Haarlem, Leiden, Delft, Dordrecht, The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Where Benjamin Brecknell Turner had played with the phenomenon of the picturesque in an original way, these publishers/photographers never deviated from well-worn paths.
What we today would recognize as ethnology was equally in demand among the foreigners. They viewed the figures in their traditional costumes in the seaside villages with curiosity. When the French writer Henry Havard (1838-1921) made a trip around the Zuiderzee in 1876, he encountered typical groups of Dutch fishermen. He found that they shared the air of Turkish believers in kismet: like them, they squatted down in Eastern mode, sitting together in groups of six or eight, silent, immobile, smoking their pipes indifferently and aimlessly letting their gaze wander. Their interest in The Netherlands also connected with a fascination with its splendid past. What travellers in the 19 th century in fact undertook was a journey into the world and art of the Golden Age. This too was reflected in photography. The interest in 17 th century art is found in photographs from this period of church interiors, views of the quaint streets and squares in the heart of old Dutch cities, and photographic landscapes with high skies. Moreover, through the traditional costumes with their head-wear and white caps, the photographer could introduce elements of ‘genre’ in to his pictures, reminiscent of the scenes of fishermen and women by painters like Jozef Israëls, and works by the Haagse School.
Finally, in the 19 th century The Netherlands was also the country of progress in civil engineering. The landscape was changing, and from around 1850 onward poorly accessible places and islands were being reached by the fast-growing network of railways, bridges and roads. One of the first bridges, in 1868, was that over the Lek at Kuilenburg, now Culemborg, with a span of 154 meter. A year later the bridge over the Waal at Zaltbommel was completed. The longest bridge followed in 1871, over the Moerdijk. These were useful and practical interventions which tied together parts of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, a delta of islands and water. Every utmost corner of this chilly, damp country must be accessible. The German photographer Johann Heinrich Schönscheidt (1835-1903), who had previously distinguished himself as the photographer of the bridge in Cologne, was brought to The Netherlands to produce the obligatory series of photographs of progress on the construction at Culemborg and Zaltbommel.(fig. 7)
Afb. 7. Johann Heinrich Schönscheidt, The new railway bridge over the river Lek near Culemborg, 30th August 1868. Albumen print, 475 x 638 mm. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. no. NG-1038-B.
He exploited the view through the bridge – as it happens, the ultimate frame for central perspective – to the full. He takes up his position at one end, and compels our gaze to march to the other through the arches of the bridge.
These engineering photographers discovered a new profile for the horizon: in addition to windmills, there were now the new wonders of technology. They were the first to record the power and range of iron construction and discover what the mass of the water on a photo could do. Schönscheidt used the girders of the bridge as a frame in his horizontal photo, which ultimately carries the eye to the centre of the image. Midway he poses a group as a charming accent. The monumentality of what was at that time the longest bridge in Europe, and particularly the geometry of the web of steel girders were effective visual instruments, yet they had little to do with the picturesque. The practical approach of the civil servant and civil engineer demanded equally practical and objective documentation.
Pictorialism in photography
Alongside this, toward the end of the 19 th century the first real movement in photography arose, primarily intended to provide an artistic counterweight to the unimaginative work of the professional photographers. Pictorialism was an international movement, with famous advocates such as the German-born American photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946). Among the pictorialists composition and the effect of tonality were important for the pictorial rendering of the image and creating atmosphere. They regularly organized exhibitions in the major cities of Europe and America, and published their work in the important international journals Camera Work and Die Kunst in der Photographie. They were largely serious amateur photographers who strove for their own recognizable, personal signature. They did this by using all sorts of special printing methods, such as the gum print or the bromoil print, or by printing on Japanese paper. This underscored the ‘painterly’ quality of the photographic image, and the choice of subject was to be in keeping with this. When leafing through these journals, it becomes clear that in The Netherlands they found a very suitable and important subjects: the landscape, fisherfolk, and the reflections in water were recurrent themes in Stieglitz’s own work, but also in that of the Scottish photographer James Craig Annan (1864-1946), or the Austrian Heinrich Kühn (1866-1944). As a result, from the 1890s Katwijk, Noordwijk and Veere became en vogue, as far away as America.
Annan was the first pictorialist photographer who approached The Netherlands more than superficially. In 1892, together with his friend, the artist and etcher David Young Cameron, he made a round trip through Alkmaar, Amsterdam, Haarlem, Utrecht, Zaandam and Zandvoort. Annan was a professional photographer, an had just taken over the printing business of his father, Thomas Annan (1829-1887), likewise a recognized photographer, when he visited The Netherlands. He followed the work of his colleagues who had become members of the photography clubs which flourished in this era. What, precisely, his reasons were for choosing The Netherlands as his destination is however not clear. Possibly he had become fascinated by the photographs by G. Christopher Davies, for the book On Dutch Waterways (1886), for which his firm produced the heliogravures, and on which he himself, as a printer, must have worked. His interest could also have been quickened by seeing paintings by the Haagse School at an international exhibition of paintings in Glasgow in 1888. For the rest, it was not the first time James Craig Annan had been to the country. In 1883, as a nineteen-year-old he had travelled to Vienna with his father to learn the procedure of heliogravure from the graphic artist Karl Klíc. On their trip the father and son must have passed through The Netherlands, because in a letter to his wife Thomas wrote in deprecative terms of what struck him about the ‘dead level’ Dutch landscape: ‘swampy ground’ and ‘broad ditches of stagnant waters’.
In 1892 the young Annan – caught up by pictorialism – could see the beauty of the country. The Glasgow School of Art has a unique account of his experiences in The Netherlands. The story is to be found under the title ‘Zandvoort’, in the periodical The Magazine, produced by students at the art school. From it, it would appear that the photographer was seeking ways to express the sensation of photographing outdoors, and thus the atmosphere of the scene: ‘All is cold and grey for it is early spring and last year’s grass is only a shade deeper than the sand, which stretches hillock beyond hillock until they meet the greyer sky, which westward blends into the horizon of the sea…’ He added ten photographs to the account of his trip. Annan brought back about 240 exposures from his trip, on glass plate negatives in two formats. One of them was ‘Reflections on the Rokin Gracht’, an Amsterdam shot: an almost abstract detail of reflections in the water, with only a narrow strip of the building’s façades above it.
Shortly after their trip, in October, 1892, Cameron and Annan showed 75 works under the title North Holland. A series of etchings and monotones. The exhibition took place in the prestigious exhibition space of Annan’s company in Glasgow. Annan had printed 45 photographs in the heliogravure technique, not in the usual grey-black tint, but in red, brown and green inks. They hung next to Cameron’s etchings. The interior of the gallery, including the furniture and the frames for the works, had just been modernized by the furniture and interior designer George Walton, who had chosen a grey and green background for the etchings and photographs. In 1892, after the first exhibition, The British Journal of Photography praised A Utrecht Pastoral as a ‘characteristic’ Dutch landscape. The tall trees on the left side of the image, the row of sheep along the water and the great masses of cloud formed ‘a most pleasing whole’. It was a ‘soft’ image, without ‘the hardness so often seen in photography’. Another reviewer praised ‘the band of quiet foreground, which most photographers would trim away as useless […] Its presence greatly adds to the feeling or suggestion of space and scale. The bold and large treatment of the clouded sky space must be noted.’ A third saw chiefly the low light and the long shadows in the bend in the road, and the professional handling of the sky.
Annan’s photographic impressions of The Netherlands were also shown outside Glasgow. His Dutch photographs were to be seen at the first exhibition of the international photographers society The Linked Ring in London in October, 1893. There Annan sold A Utrecht Pastoral (fig. 8) and Fishers and Wives.
Fig. 8. James Craig Annan, A Utrecht Pastorale, 1892. Photogravure, 217 x 268 mm. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. no. RP-F-2001-6. Purchased with the support of the Paul Huf Fonds/Rijksmuseum Fonds.
In 1894 he submitted work for the international exhibition of the Photo Club de Paris, where it was particularly Reflections on the Rokin Gracht that was admired. In April, 1894, he left for New York, where he once again showed Reflections and The Beach at Zandvoort. In a review the latter was termed one of the gems of the exhibition, and also decorated the cover of the American Amateur Photographer. The Beach at Zandvoort was once again to be admired at the photo exhibition in the Kunsthalle in Hamburg in 1899. The Dutch photographs were thus very well received. In a 1900 issue of Die Kunst in der Photographie which was entirely devoted to Annan, three of the twelve photographs included were from The Netherlands. His unconventional cropping and the strongly ‘reduced’, empty compositions stood out in international photographic circles.
In 1894 the founder of pictorialism, Alfred Stieglitz, made a long honeymoon trip around Europe, during which he and his wife met his photographic associates and visited exhibitions. After Milan, the Tirol, Vienna and The Black Forest, they also stopped in The Netherlands. Stieglitz arrived in Katwijk with his wife Emmeline on 9 August for a productive week-long visit. He photographed the fishing smacks and the waiting fishermen’s wives on the beach. He also, as he later wrote, hiked through the ‘cold Dutch sand dunes’ in search of the net menders, and in the village he photographed the women battling the wind to hang up their wash. The Netherlands was inexhaustible, he felt, because in the region behind the coast a photographer could find everything: ‘the green fields, romantic windmills, and shepherds with their flocks, which serve as inspiration for the grand pastoral pictures of Israëls and his followers’. Later in August he wrote to a German friend about the advantages of The Netherlands: ‘da man Alles hat was man sich denken kann, nur kein Gebirg, sonst aber Alles. Ich habe trotz Regen und Sturm darauf los photographiert’. En passant, the Rembrandts in the Mauritshuis in The Hague were viewed with great enthusiasm.
Stieglitz’s estate is preserved in de National Gallery of Art in Washington. In it one finds twenty ‘Dutch Subjects’ and an account of his travels through Europe, illustrated with photographs. Scurrying Home, a photograph in heliogravure on which we see two fishermen’s wives walking along the beach toward the church in Katwijk (fig. 9), can be found in the collection of the Rijksmuseum.
Fig. 9. Alfred Stieglitz, Scurrying home or The Hour of Prayer, 1894. From the portfolio Picturesque bits of New York, 1897. Photogravure, 190 x 157 mm. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. no. RP-F-00-44.
This copy of Scurrying Home was once part of a luxurious portfolio with the title Picturesque Bits of New York and other studies (1897). Four heliogravures from photographs by Stieglitz were included in this publication: The Glow of Night, New York, Reflections, Venice and Scurrying Home and The incoming boat, two scenes from Katwijk. Scurrying Home – also under the title The hour of prayer – is found four times in the National Gallery of Art: as a platinum print, a heliogravure on Japanese paper, as the heliogravure from the above publication, and as a later print from the 1930s. The photographs reveal how Stieglitz experimented with the composition of the image. In the first prints he cropped out broad strips to the right and left of the church, and for the platinum print he opted for still a different cropping. The Dutch photographs were among Stieglitz’s favourites: he submitted them repeatedly for international photo exhibitions.
In 1897 the Austrian photographer Heinrich Kühn also came to The Netherlands. He returned in 1901 and 1904, and preferred to work in the vicinity of Katwijk and Noordwijk. Like Annan and Stieglitz he was interested in impressions, and made studies of the light, genre studies and landscapes. Kühn paid close attention to the tonal values in them, but also to the rough texture of the print, often a platinum or gum print. In 1908 the American Alvin Langdon Coburn, another famous pictorialist, visited The Netherlands. He made Canal at Rotterdam, an impression of a boat reflected in the water. (fig.1) Starting in 1907 the Frenchman Robert Demachy made photographs of the canals of Amsterdam, and also a bromoil print of the windmills in Alphen aan de Rijn, in which he heavily accentuated light and dark. (fig. 2)
Amateur photography grew vigorously after 1900. Amateur photographers societies and clubs travelled around Europe and exchanged experiences. We find their photographs, which incline toward the moody and poetic, in photography magazines. In the wake of the ‘great’ photographers, various ‘small’ masters, often forgotten today, now travelled through the towns and villages and across the waters. The Austrians Hugo Henneberg (1863-1918) and Hans Watzek (1848-1903) stayed in Katwijk and Noordwijk, sometimes in the company of Kühn. The photographs of E. Gottheil, from Königsberg, are entirely redolent of the atmosphere of Jozef Israëls’s fishing scenes.39 The Hamburg art photographers Theodor and Oscar Hofmeister (1868-1943; 1871-1937) also visited The Netherlands.
Particularly the area around the Zuiderzee and the provinces of Zeeland and Friesland, which had still not been affected by urban expansion and industry, were in vogue. The English architect and amateur photographer Arthur Marshall (1858-1915), a member of The Linked Ring, travelled through these provinces in 1906. In the book Three Vagabonds in Friesland with a yacht and a camera (1907) by H.F. Tomalin, was given the last three chapters to recount his experiences as a photographer. He describes how difficult and risky it was to travel with the equipment and glass negatives in a rocking little boat. But the northern province also offered advantages: ‘In a country like Friesland where you have 180 degrees of sky, and you get a maximum amount of sunshine, the exposures must necessarily be very short.’ But before he could begin photographing, Marshall had to clear the human obstacles out of the way: ‘In Friesland, the children pester you to death.’ In order to escape from disruptions by the locals, he had his two travelling companions invite the villagers for what they promised would be group portraits: ‘these little acts of deception are very necessary in a country where the people buzz round you like a swarm of bees.’ While the villagers were kept busy with that, Marshall could do the real landscapes and atmospheric studies in peace, out of their sight.
Illustrated travelogues like this one, which made use of photomechanical illustrations, can be connected with increasing tourism, particularly on the part of Americans. One beautiful publication of this sort was the two volume American edition of Holland (1892) by Edmondo de Amicis, with photographs by the American Charles L. Mitchell in heliogravure. It was part of an extensive series of travel books from the publisher Porter & Coats, in Philadelphia. In 1900 Odd Bits of Travel with Brush and Camera, by Charles M. Taylor Jr. appeared, once again with numerous shots from the villages around the Zuiderzee, such as Volendam, Broek in Waterland and Monnickendam. And finally, as promotion for the Holland-America Line, the shipping line had a photo illustrated travel brochure written by James H. Gore. His Holland as seen by an American appeared for the first time in 1899, and ran through a number of printings.
By this time the photographic approach of the pictorialists was already running flack for its excessive sentimentalism and unreal cotton puff skies. The subject of ‘Holland’ was quickly becoming a cliché which, moreover, was interchangeable. Were those reflections in the water in Amsterdam, or Venice? Were those sail boats on the Zuiderzee or the Baltic Sea? Were those fisherwomen from Brittany or Katwijk? The pictorialists had a preconceived notion of what a photo had to be, and they therefore paid less attention to what was really in front of the lens of their camera.
Fig. 10. James Higson, Roadworkers taking a break on Damrak, Amsterdam, 1904. Gelatin Printing out paper, 109 x 153 mm. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. no. RP-F-2006-22-9.
During a tour through The Netherlands he photographed in Zaandam, Scheveningen and various other cities. Higson had a particularly good eye for people (especially in small groups) on the street in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. He photographed workmen, children and street vendors. This range of interest permitted him to record paviours near Amsterdam’s Central Station, but also a scene in Scheveningen that appears to be copied from Jozef Israëls’s ‘Kinderen der zee’. Photographic tourism reached a high point in the summer of 1912, when 150 members of The Photographic Convention of the United Kingdom made their excursion to The Netherlands. As might be expected, they took an immense number of photographs, and applied the latest techniques. The colourful view of the Oudezijdsachterburgwal by an unknown English photographer from that company, taken on an autochrome plate, must have been done on that occasion. (fig. 4) It has to be one of the earliest colour photographs of Amsterdam. The best known amateur in the history of photography, the young Frenchman Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894-1986), also did ‘vues de Hollande’ in his inimitable manner. He came to The Netherlands at an unusual time of year: the middle of the winter. In January, 1912, with his father and brother Rico he travelled around the vicinity of Delft, The Hague and Scheveningen in a rented automobile (fig.11).
Fig. 11. Jacques Henri Lartigue, Voyage en Hollande : Rico et notre auto louée Hollande, Januari 1912. Gelatin silver print, 73 x 107 mm. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. no. RP-F-2011-61. Purchased with the support of Baker & McKenzie Amsterdam N.V.
On this visit his predilection for photographing aeroplanes and fast cars has made way for photographs of cold water and misty landscapes. We had never before encountered such a mute, wintry view of The Netherlands in photography.
By the third decade of the 20 th century, the tradition which had begun in the 19 th century with the interest in picturesque and pictorial qualities appeared to take a completely different direction. After the ’teens and ’20s photographers increasingly let go of the pursuit of pictorialism and turned to realism – elements for the New Realism could be found just as easily in The Netherlands. That is demonstrated by an account by the English writer Aldous Huxley, after his visit to the Beemster in North Holland in 1925. His eye was caught chiefly by the malleable, straight and flat Netherlands: ‘the Dutch landscape has all the qualities that make geometry so delightful […] And all the time as one advances the huge geometrical landscape spreads out on either side of the car like an opening fan. Along the level sky-line a score of windmills wave their arms like dancers in a geometrical ballet. […] Geometry calls for geometry; with a sense of the aesthetic proprieties which one cannot too highly admire, the Dutch have responded to the appeal of the landscape and have dotted the plane surface of their country with cubes and pyramids. Delightful landscape! I know of no country that it is more mentally exhilarating to travel in.’ The concept of ‘the picturesque’ made way for an objective vision. In the period after the First World War – in photography, and in the other visual arts as well – the prime object of pursuit was a new sense of design.
In 1925, while roaming the Rotterdam harbour district, the German photographer Germaine Krull, who was briefly married to the Dutch cinematographer Joris Ivens, discovered a new motif for her work. The loading and unloading of ships along the quays, with the bridges and cranes, fascinated her: ‘Alles war aus Stahl!’ She returned frequently to make more photographs, and constantly try out new compositions (fig. 3 and 12).
Fig. 12. Germaine Krull, De Hef, Rotterdam, 1925-28. Collotype, 234 x 172 mm. Plate 32 from Métal, Paris (A. Calavas) 1928. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. no. RP-F-2004-264-32.
According to her biographer, that was the starting point for a much larger project that would ultimately result in the photo portfolio Métal (1928). It contains 64 studies on the same subject. She not only photographed in Rotterdam, but also, after that, did shots of cranes, bridges and metal cables in Amsterdam and, after her departure from The Netherlands, continued with the theme in Paris (the Eiffel Tower) and Marseille (Pont Transbordeur).
When looking through the complete series, it is not easy to pick out the Dutch photographs, so abstract are her interpretations of wire constructions and steel. That underscores again that what the photographer encountered somewhere was, in most cases, precisely what he or she wanted to find. Thus Krulls’s interest was not so much in something Dutch, as in the metal elements and the composition: full of lines, silhouettes and unusual perspective. We also see that Krull has definitively overturned the horizontal format of ‘the picturesque’: quite literally, it has generally given way to vertical compositions. These also fit better into the format of the book, which for her was the most important end product of her project.
In a more general sense, Krull’s photo series Métal stands for modernism in art, and the admiration of the majesty of machines, mechanization and technology which went with it. It is curious that we also sensed that same awe in Schönscheidt, who 60 years before in Culemborg peered through the longest bridge in Europe with amazement, and in 1868 made his ‘modern’ photograph. The most important differences are, however, the perspective, and the fragmentary gaze fostered by the faster tempo of life. In his manual for the ‘new photographer’ Werner Gräff summed it up succinctly: central perspective was too tranquil and ziemlich langweilig. The gaze of modern man was not orderly, but higgledy-piggledy. Krull had just as little regard for central perspective or order. She plated constantly with the diagonals in the photo, and zoomed in and out on the surface of the metal. Almost as though in a film sequence, in dozens of studies she seeks new fragments and new perspectives. That shifting of perspective was one of the hallmarks of a different way of photographing.
The special ‘Découverte de la Hollande’ issue of the Belgian avant-garde art magazine Variétés which appeared in April, 1929, testified to how thoroughly The Netherlands was caught up in the modern movement at that moment, having definitively discarded pictorialism and the picturesque. Painters, actors, writers and poets pass in review, and there are stills from Joris Ivens’s film De Brug. Several of Krull’s Métal photographs are included: we see cranes and the harbours of Amsterdam and Rotterdam again, in vertical, but also in horizontal format. For the rest, her photographs of the traditional Netherlands are also reproduced in the same issue: people on the street in Marken or Volendam, and a man in a pub. There is also an abstract photo – vertical – of the pattern of the bleachers in the newly opened Olympic Stadium. The magazine likewise bestows plenty of attention to modern Dutch architecture of the day. Gerrit Rietveld’s Schröderhuis and J.J.P. Oud’s Café de Unie are pictured, as is the Volharding building by Jan Buijs in The Hague – the latter by night, to do full justice to the aspect of light in architecture.
The Netherlands attracted a number of foreigners in this period because of its modern architecture. Between 1930 and 1932 Iwao Yamawaki (1898-1987), a Japanese architecture student at the Bauhaus, visited the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam, designed by the famous architectural firm Brinkman & Van der Vlugt (fig. 13).
Fig. 13. Iwao Yamawaki, View of the Van Nelle factory, Rotterdam, c. 1930-1932. Gelatin silver print, 112 x 79 mm. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. no. RP-F-2012-45. Purchased with the support of Baker & McKenzie Amsterdam N.V.
During his visit Yamawaki also made photographs of the Rotterdam neighbourhood De Kiefhoek and of the open-air school by Duiker in Amsterdam. Entirely in keeping with Bauhaus principles, he composed his photo in a modern manner, with an eye for the diagonals, and again in a vertical format.
Many foreign artists came to The Netherlands in the 1920s, among them Moholy-Nagy, Hannah Höch, El Lissitzky, Kurt Schwitters and Raoul Hausmann. They were part of the large group of migrants who drifted back and forth across Europe after 1920 – after the First World War – making contacts and picking up ideas in Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam or London, wherever the art climate attracted them, becoming a source of fruitful cross-fertilization for the arts. For instance, it appears that with her photographs Krull inspired her husband, the Dutch cinematographer Joris Ivens, to make his film De Brug (1928), about the Hef in Rotterdam. Several of these young artists employed the camera in their practice, and cut and pasted the results in collages, or practised film in addition to photography. Their fresh ways of seeing fit well with art movements like Dada, the Bauhaus and surrealism. The boundaries between painting, photography, film and design became increasingly blurred. Initially their reasons for exchanging one country for another were primarily artistic, but it would not be long before a constantly growing wave of political refugees would begin, who found a (temporary) refuge in The Netherlands.
‘The picturesque’, the quest for beauty, central perspective and the depiction of vast landscapes had long since ceased to fit with the society of that day. In analogy to film, photography discovered the close-up and rapid montage. In many respects, the perception of The Netherlands changed with the times, and took a different turn. An interesting follow-up question would be whether foreign photographers are more inclined to pick up on the visual qualities of a city or country than are natives. One can think of James Craig Annan, who had an army of followers – among the Dutch too – or of Germaine Krull, who inspired Joris Ivens to make De Brug. Only when an international art movement – whether that was pictorialism or the modern avant-garde – showed interest, did new ideas and approaches begin to ferment. Dutch views of the world and ideas about it appear to develop only with that stimulus. In that light, the question of whether foreign eyes see differently or better is perhaps still relevant, because all art begins with a different way of seeing things.
Mattie Boom is curator of photography at the Rijksmuseum. Publications by her on 19 th -century and 20 th -century photography include Photography between covers. The Dutch Documentary Photobook after 1945; A New Art. Photography in the 19th century and Document Nederland. Nederland gefotografeerd 1975-2005. Editor of the website http://www.earlyphotography.nl the Rijksmuseum Studies in Photography of the Manfred and Hanna Heiting Fund. Recent exhibitions she has curated include The Mayor. Dana Lixenberg photographs an everyday office (2011).↑
3. It seems to be a long tradition in the arts: Dutch skies, the light and space, with the low horizon, have always exercised their fascination. Down to our own times this has been a favourite subject, presently particularly in photography. Recently, as part of a project regarding the construction of the High Speed Rails Line (HSL), the photographers Jem Southam – very precisely, in his rendering of Dutch clay – and Elger Esser – exploiting nostalgia – have provided unconventional views of The Netherlands. See the archive of the HSL Foundation, presented to the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. In the 2009 commission New York Perspectives, the Amsterdam City Archives asked the American urban photographers Joshua Lutz, Richard Rothmann, Carl Wooley and Gus Powell to give their vision of the Dutch capital.↑
4. The Rotterdam municipal archives found these never previously seen photographs in the archive of the Stichting Havenbelangen: see Jong 2011.↑
7. Heuvel 2008. This exhibition was seen in the Neue Pinakothek as a companion to Der weite Blick (2008), and in the George Eastman House in Rochester as a companion to the reconstructed New Topographics (2009, originally 1975).↑
9. His countryman John Sherrington, whose photographs reside in the Leiden University Library’s Special Collections, but about whom we know almost nothing, preceded him in this in 1848. In 1857 the British photographer J.M. Bannerman Smith also showed views of Rotterdam in London; cf. Photographic Exhibitions in Britain 1839-1865, http://peib.dmu.ac.uk/detailphotographer.php?photogNo=681&inum=4&listLength=6&orderBy=coverage ,(accessed on 29 November 2012).↑
13. The pictorialist photographers knew the paintings of Israëls and the Haagse School painters through photographic reproductions, from the firm of Goupil et Cie., among others.↑
14. The Belgian photographer Edmond Fierlants was also active in recording the construction of the Moerdijk bridge.↑
15. Cf. Boom/Reynaerts 2008, pp. 68-97, 122-123, cat. no. 77. A year later Schönscheidt once again photographed a view through a bridge like this, now on the bridge over the Waal at Zaltbommel, Rijksmuseum inv. no. RP-F-F17914.↑
17. See Buchanan 1989, in which the influence of the grey palette of the Haagse School and the work of painters like B.J. Blommers are also discussed. See further Buchanan 1984; Buchanan 1992; Anon. ‘North Holland in Glasgow’ (excerpted from The British Journal of Photography, 28 October 1892) in Buchanan 1994, pp. 53-54, and further the references in the same publication on pp. xi, xvi, xvii, 15, 17, 18, 43, 55, 56, 58, 67, 76, 77, 81, 83, 85, 97, 115, 116, 117, 138, 143, 147, 148 and 151. See also Heijbroek/MacDonald 1997, pp. 116-126, 138-140.↑
18. The book is in the possession of the Rijksmuseum. The topographic-historical Atlas van het Gemeentearchief Dordrecht possesses a series of loose plates, entitled Photo Engravings of the Rivers and Canals of Holland and Belgium, from the collection of Simon van Gijn, Esq. Annan also printed for Davies 1994, p. 137, sub 2.↑
22. See Matthew Surface, ‘James Craig Annan’ (excerpted from The Practical Photographer, June, 1896) in Buchanan 1994, p. 67: ‘two hundred quarter-plates and forty whole-plate exposures’. For the preserved prints, see Buchanan 1989, p. 270, who proceeds from the number 14.↑
23. The Studio, 15 December, 1894.↑
26. Ibidem, p. 76.↑
27. Ibidem, pp. 115-116.↑
39. For E. Gottheil, see Idzerda/Matthies-Masuren 1907, issue III, pp. 67, 77, pl. 44, 48, 49. For Henneberg, see the same publication, issue IV, pl. 54. Compare the Schevening photographs by Van Koningsveld, who as a painter was a colleague and friend of Israëls, and introduced the latter’s fishing genre into Dutch photography, with Israëls’s own work. See Rooseboom 2008, pp. 241-242, illus. 75-77.↑
41. See s.n. 1912, p. 70. The young queen Wilhelmina, herself a photographer, attended this lecture. Three of the Frisian photographs by Arthur Marshall are to be found in the Prentenkabinet of the University of Leiden, now a Special Collection in the University Library. There are likewise several in the Royal Photographic Society collection at the National Media Museum in Bradford. The book is in the library of the Rijksmuseum. Marshall returned to The Netherlands several times. All together, he made some 3000 shots.↑
43. To which Cairo: The City of the Caliphs (1895) and Morocco: Its people and places (1897), among others, also belonged.↑
44. The titles listed here are in the library of the Rijksmuseum.↑
46. It is not clear whether this James Higson was the same person as the Manchester United player, but that cannot be excluded. In that day both football and photography were popular recreational activities in upper class circles, and the combination is not unknown.↑
48. At the same time the Rijksmuseum acquired four other autochromes with an English provenance, by the same photographer: of the Hotel Spaander in Volendam, a landscape, a view of Marken and of the windmill De Adriaan in Haarlem, (inv. nrs RP-F-2000-139 through 142). The municipal archives researched the date of the anonymous photo, on which one can see a house under construction. From city Building Department records it discovered that the shot must have been taken in July, 1912. That coincides with the time of the visit by the English amateur photographers. An album in the Rijksmuseum containing a photographic account of their trip moreover proves that the company did actually visit that always photogenic spot (inv. no. RP-F-2003-4).↑
49. There are six album pages with Dutch photographs in the Fondation Lartigue in Paris. His notebook also contains an account of the trip, and drawings.↑
52. Ibidem, p. 68.↑
54. Variétés: revue mensuelle illustrée de l’esprit contemporain 1929, portfolio after p. 688. Rijksmuseum RP-F-2004-165.↑
57. Honnef/Weyers 1997. Not mentioned in this study are Hanna Elkan, Kurt Kahle, Norbert Kraus and Franz Pfemfert and Alex Strasser. It was chiefly Germans and Hungarians who came to The Netherlands, and played a very important role in shaping the art climate there. In these decades Europe was litterally adrift. Among those who lived and worked in The Netherlands for longer periods were Maria Austria, Eva Besnyö, Erwin Blumenfeld, Marianne Breslauer, Paul Citroen, Peter Hunter-Salomon, Fritz Kahlenberg, Gerda Leo, Werner Mantz, Mira, László Moholy-Nagy, Marion Palfi, Hajo Rose, Erich Salomon, Hans Spies, Lotte Stam-Beese and Wolf Suschitzky . See also Dryansky/Houk 2006, pp.31-33, 37, p. 107, 133. Bing was the protegé of the Dutch/American writer Hendrik Willem Van Loon, and stayed in his home in The Netherlands several times. It was through his intervention that she photographed for the Algemeen Handelsblad. Roman Vishniac photographed in the Wieringermeer in 1939. Photographs taken in The Netherlands by Raoul Hausmann are also known. See also Grisar 1932.↑
Photographic Exhibitions in Britain, http://peib.dmu.ac.uk (accessed 29 November 2012).
M. Boom 2008, ‘Moderne Landschaft. Die Ingenieurfotografie und das Bild der Niederlande’, in: J. Reynaerts (ed.), Der weite Blick. Landschaften der Haager Schule aus dem Rijksmuseum, exh.cat., Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne, 2008, pp. 68-97.
H. Havard 1875, Verleden en heden: een togt langs de kusten van de Zuiderzee, Haarlem. (La Hollande pittoresque : voyage aux villes mortes du Zuiderzee, Paris 1874. Also appeared as The dead cities of the Zuyder zee : a voyage to the picturesque side of Holland, London 1875.)