PhotoLexicon, Volume 3, nr. 4 (March 1986) (en)

Carl Emil Mögle

Ania Prazáková


Carl Emil Mögle earned the label of photographic artist based on his training in photography, painting, and drawing, as well as on the high artistic level t he was able to achieve with his photography. He belonged to a generation of photographers who created a pure photographic artistry through an abundance of talent and craftsmanship in the 1890s. In technical terms, he may be considered one of the better photographers from this period. Mögle’s diverse oeuvre includes portraits, cityscapes, interiors, corporate objects, and landscapes, as well as genre images and photos of current events.




Carl Emile Mögle is born on 8 September in Birkach (Bamberg), Germany.


At the age of fifteen, Mögle becomes an apprentice with Wühlman (or Bühlman), a company in Thun, Switzerland. Upon completing his training, he works as a photographer in Bern and Lausanne, followed by Ravensburg, Koblenz, and Cologne in Germany.


Mögle studies drawing at the Academie van Beeldende Kunst (‘Academy of Fine Arts’) in Antwerp. Following this study, he moves to Dordrecht, where he becomes a member of the association Pictura. In Dordrecht, Mögle meets numerous painters and continues his study in drawing. He also comes into contact with J.G. Hameter, who owns a successful photography studio.


Mögle manages a branch of Hameter’s company in Leiden at Apothekersdijk No. 7, having succeeded the photographer W.P. Holtheijer. This undertaking lasts only for a brief time. In 1883, Hendrik Jonker takes over Hameter’s business. Mögle leaves for Rotterdam.


On 30 May, Mögle registers at the Rotterdam public records office. He presumably finds employment with a photographer in the city.


Mögle begins his career as an independent photographer. He sets up a studio at Moriaanstraat 5 in Rotterdam.


On 12 June, Mögle marries Emma Laura Gerstenberg from Rhoda (Saxony, Germany). Two children are born from this marriage.


This is a successful period for Mögle. His work is greatly appreciated, at home and abroad. His photos are awarded gold and silver medals as well as honorary diplomas at exhibitions in the Netherlands and abroad. In 1896, he receives a medal from Her Majesty, the Queen Regent, Emma. Mögle is frequently asked to serve as a jury member at exhibitions.

After 1900

After the turn of the century, there is a shift in appreciation for Mögle’s work, in part influenced by a new generation of art photographers who highly value fine print (‘edeldruk’) processes. Mögle resists altering the course of his artistic endeavours, and consequently, his work is rejected by the organisers of several exhibitions. In this period, he experiences numerous misfortunes, both artistically and businesswise. Mögle is unable to reconcile his business interests with his artistic aspirations. He neglects introducing necessary changes that would bring his studio up to date with contemporary demands being made of the profession. As a result, his circle of clientele gradually tapers off.


The NFK (Nederlandse Fotografen Kunstkring, ‘Netherlands Photographers Art Society’) is founded. Mögle is one of the organisation’s first members, along with P. Clausing Jr., J. Büttinghausen, A. Zimmermans, H. Deutmann, Th. Bouwmeester, H.W. Wollrabe, Ch. Abraas, and C.M. Dewald.


Mögle’s wife, Emma Gerstenberg, dies on 14 September. Plagued by continual health problems, Mögle withdraws from the business world and transfers his studio to the photographer Marinus Jacobus Donker. Notwithstanding, he remains actively interest in the field of photography up until his death.


Carl Mögle dies in Rotterdam on 19 August.


Carl Emil Mögle was so obsessed with photography that his profession and his hobby were an extension of each other: he did portraits and took on other commissioned work in order to make a living. In addition, he photographed landscapes, genre portraits, and other subjects for his own pleasure. No matter what kind of photographic work he was doing, he always gave it his best effort.

Mögle obtained his education in photography in Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium. He gained practical experience by working in various photography studios. His artistic formation took place at the Academie van Beeldende Kunst (‘Academy of Fine Arts’) in Antwerp. The earliest traces of Mögle’s photography in the Netherlands date back to 1890: starting in this year, he signed and dated his photos, and submitted works to exhibitions. After spending brief periods in Dordrecht and Leiden, the city of Rotterdam became Mögle’s second hometown. He apparently felt so much at home that he ended up staying there until the end of his life, more than a half-century later.

Mögle’s development was influenced by two important factors: firstly, the reverberations of the nineteenth century philosophies propagating a return to nature, which had shaped the spiritual climate of his youth; secondly, the significance of photography from the 1860s and ’70s—then still largely documentary in focus—with regards to general notions of industrial, economic and social progress. For art photography, this was the period in which the pictorial realism of the British photography theorist Henry Peach Robinson was highly influential. From 1860 to the late 1880s, Robinson’s theories dominated people’s notions regarding photography as an art form, especially in Great Britain. Through translations appearing in magazines, his publications were also dispersed elsewhere in Europe. In Robinson’s pictorial realism, corrections of nature and artificial modifications were both necessary and acceptable when depicting a given subject.

Mögle’s principles diverged from this approach: he wished to choose his subjects consciously, but without introducing any artificial correction. His vision of photography was comparable to that of the British photographer Peter Henry Emerson, who published his theories on photography as an art form in 1889. Emerson propagated an aesthetic that was true to nature, a spontaneous approach, a precise determination of the angle of view, as well as the integrity of the overall image. Mögle’s ideas were in complete alignment with this view. Notwithstanding, there are no sources to justify the assumption that a copy of Emerson’s book lay on Mögle’s night table, which he then consulted as a kind of photographic bible. His photographic vision is more likely to have sprung from a mentality similar to that of Emerson. Being true to nature and integrity were highly important to Mögle: when blur and diffuse lighting appear in his photos, they are used, for instance, to emphasise the atmosphere of a misty landscape or a rainy day.

Mögle remained faithful to this ‘formula’ based on his own vision, even when new ideas concerning art photography arrived from abroad around the turn of the century—coming chiefly out of Germany—which were also accompanied by alternative notions of style and technique. Impressionistic photography, derived more from painting than from nature, had begun to get the upper hand. The rather coarse gum printing technique, with its fading contours, was particularly suitable for this photographic art form.

In photography circles, Mögle’s technical perfection was greatly admired. In an article devoted to Mögle appearing in 1934, Adriaan Boer was the first to praise his negatives, ‘which were in themselves a lust for the eyes’. The quality of these negatives was perfectly expressed on the albumen silver paper initially used by Mögle (which he silvered himself). Around 1890, he switched to the new platinum paper, which he used not only for his better portraiture (regular studio portraits were printed on albumen paper, which was less costly), but also for his landscape and genre photography. Mögle was extremely critical of various fine printing (‘edeldruk’) processes, such as gum printing in particular, which readily became a large black mass: ‘insensitive, and without proportions in tone, by which nature expresses distance and mood, without the tonality that enables an artist to subject one area of light to another, when influencing each other negatively.’ With these words written in 1901, Mögle formulated his critique of an exhibition of art photography held in Groningen.

Mögle’s education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp is expressed throughout his entire photographic oeuvre: he modelled with light and shadow, carefully deliberated his compositions, and made use of rhythmically repeating elements in his subjects, such as the masts of ships, bollards, or rows of trees. Objects having a utilitarian function, e.g. a fence, the structural supports of a bridge, or parts of a balustrade, never distract from his photos, but, by means of their positioning in the composition, are abstracted into decorative patterns.

Mögle’s portraits—whether studio portraits or free studies—are always well composed. When necessary, adjustments were made in a tasteful manner. In his genre portraits, Mögle was a master in depicting the ‘appropriate’ mood for his subject: devotion in the eyes of a little girl in prayer; contented simplicity in a working-class home; or stylish elegance in the portrait of charming woman sitting at the waterside.

Landscapes form their own genre in Mögle’s oeuvre. He always did his best to leave the tonal proportions and the mood of the landscape as they were. He nevertheless influenced the composition by carefully accentuating greenery or other areas that required attention with light and sharpness, and using blur to move non-essential elements more towards the background. He frequently relied on diagonal compositions, both in his landscapes and his cityscapes. Waterways, sluices, and harbours merge in a vanishing point that lies between two diagonally oriented river banks—quite often precisely located at the golden ratio.

Mögle’s cityscapes (of Rotterdam only) alternate between diagonal and semi-circular compositions, with the horizon typically ending in a row of houses or some other object (e.g. ships). The serenity that these cityscapes exude, however, is not to be found in the few photos he took of the flooding in various parts of the city: the Leuvehaven harbour, the Geldersekade, and the Oude Haven (‘Old Harbour’). By choosing an exposure with strong contrasts, Mögle responded very truthfully to the drama of this subject. The interest in contemporary events conveyed in these photos—which may be considered as an early form of journalistic photography—can also be seen in a series of photos that Mögle shot during Queen Wilhelmina’s visit to Rotterdam in 1898.

Mögle’s involvement with ‘his’ Rotterdam is present in virtually of his photos. For more than forty years, the city was his working terrain. It is this that made him an important ‘historiographer’ of the city in which he lived. Mögle was not just interested in the picturesque elements: his industrial commissions—i.e. photographing the sluices, waterways and steam pumping stations that were under construction—inspired him to create splendid photographic work. In this respect, he was a worthy successor to Jacobus van Gorkom Jr., who was one of the first to document these modernisations specific to the city of Rotterdam. With competent skill, Mögle continued to follow the course of functional documentary photography set out by photographers such as Van Gorkom and his business partner Wollrabe, as well as his own former employer, J.G. Hameter. During the 1920s in both Rotterdam and The Hague, the photographers Jan Kamman, E. van Ojen, and those working for the architectural magazine De 8 en Opbouw—e.g. Piet Zwart, Paul Schuitema and others—would take it up again.

Carl Emil Mögle was one of the first photographers in the Netherlands who made a conscious decision to become a photographic artist, in the sense of photographing topics such as landscape, genre, and cityscapes based on a purely artistic approach. His cityscapes were not meant as postcards, his genre portraits not meant as folkloric pictures, and his art photos were never meant for sale: ‘That a poet like Mögle was no salesman, goes virtually without saying. Consequently, he didn’t make much money with his art (…) He simply never considered selling his beautiful shots, produced as a hobby.’ (Adriaan Boer, 1934). Mögle’s industrial photos are an extension of the functional, documentary photography that emerged in the early 1860s. While his oeuvre is far too art-oriented for him to be described as an objective, functional photographer, Mögle’s main strength nevertheless lay in his ability to functionally unify subject, mood, and tonality in his photography. His work is solidly constructed and possesses a restrained beauty, with quality as its trademark.


Primary bibliography

Indrukken van de Kunst-Photographie- Tentoonstelling te Groningen, gehouden 16 Maart tot 1April, in Lux, geïllustreerd tijdschrift voor fotografie 12 (1901), p. 297-300.


images in:

Lux (1892) 12; (1893) 3; (1901) 3; (1903) 10; (1904) 3; (1905) 183.

Fotografisch jaarboek en almanak van het jaar 1900, p. 112.

Fotografie 1920, p. 70, 183.

Secondary bibliography

Weekblad voor Fotografie 1891, p. 2, 156.

Weekblad voor Fotografie 1894, p. 27, 3.

Tijdschrift voor Fotografie 1892, p. 129.

N.H. Wolf, De fotograaf CE. Mögle, in Wereldkroniek 18-10-1902.

A. Boer, Carl Emil Mögle (necrologie), in Bednjfsfotografie 16 (1934), p. 316-318.


Schildersvereniging Pictura, Dordrecht, ca. 1880.

NFK, vanaf 1902.


1887 (g) Stuttgart, Photographie Concours.

1891 (g) Amsterdam, Internationale tentoonstelling tot bevordering van fotografie

1892 (g) Den Haag, Tentoonstelling van fotografie en aanverwante kunstnijverheid.

1894 (g) Amsterdam, Internationale tentoonstelling voor de bevordering van de fotografie.

1894 (g) Maastricht, Sociëteit Momus, Tentoonstelling tot bevordering der fotografie.

1894 (g) Turijn, Internationale tentoonstelling van de fotografie.

1977 (g) Eindhoven + rondreizend, Het Groepsportret.

1981 (g) Laren, Singer Museum, De Tijd wisselt van spoor.


Leiden, Gemeentearchief.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.

Rotterdam, Gemeentearchief.


Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit.

Rotterdam, Gemeentearchief.

Rotterdam, Hoogheemraadschap Schieland.