PhotoLexicon, Volume 4, nr. 6 (March 1987) (en)

Henri Pronk

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf

Joke Pronk


Henri Pronk was one of the first generation of ‘indigenous’ Dutch daguerreotypists, and was the first Dutchman to work as a daguerreotypist in the city of Utrecht. In addition to being a photographer, he was also a merchant. In both of these roles he was in regular contact with Paris, where he kept up to date with the latest developments. As a photographer, he devoted himself primarily to the portrait. Members of noble families and professors visited his studio.




Hendrik (Henri) Pronk is born on 19 January in Amsterdam, son of Dirk Pronk and Helena van Kamp. His father is a barge captain, and the family live ‘on the Geldersche quay, in the Schippersstraatje’.


Five children are born to Henri in these years, the first being Frederik, on 30 August, 1833. Two of the children die in their first year.

In this period Henri first works as a clerk, and lives successively at Raamgracht 11, Looyerstraat 110, and on the Reguliersgracht, in Amsterdam.

On the birth certificate for his youngest daughter, in 1841, Pronk’s profession is given as salesman working on commission, and his address as Nieuwe Zijds Achterburgwal 155.

circa 1843

Pronk is active as a fancy goods merchant, in Het Wapen van Bern on the Spui in Amsterdam.


On 7 May Pronk marries the mother of his children, Katherina Friederika Frombach, born at Heilbronn, Germany. The wedding certificate gives his profession as ‘merchant’.


He is working as a daguerreotypist.


Pronk sets up shop in the Stationskoffiehuis in Utrecht, offering local residents the change to have daguerreotypes made of themselves.


Pronk has a photographic atelier at an unknown address in Amsterdam. In June he opens a studio on the Ganzenmarkt, at the corner of Minderbroederstraat, in Utrecht. This business does not last long.


In these years Pronk met is living with his family in Rotterdam, first on the Melkmarkt, in district 8, nr. 40, and later on the Schiedamsesingel, district 15, nr. 624. He works as a merchant and portraitist.

His son Frederik also becomes a photographer.


Henri Pronk visits Nijmegen as a travelling daguerreotypist in August. He lodges at the Place Royale Hotel, in the Ridderstraat.

In advertisements in the Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant he announces he is prepared to make individual, family and group portraits on large plates, „according to the latest method, for reasonable, fixed prices.” At the same time he announces he is the agent for a society for the advancement of industry, located in Paris. In that capacity he offers books – by Alexandre Dumas and others – for sale.


On 19 October ‘Henri Pronck a Rotterdam’ is registered as a member of the Société Francaise de Photographie.


For some weeks during the summer Pronk has an atelier for ‘Portraits photographie artistiques’, at the Kweeklust florists, of J. van Zoest and Sons, on the Velpersteenstraat. A pair of gentlemen named Collings and Cardite, ‘artists from Paris and London’, are working in the studio, retouching the portraits.

On 24 June Pronk, his wife and two daughters move from Rotterdam to Willemstraat 178, in The Hague. The municipal register there gives his occupation as merchant; later he opens a photo studio at Willemstraat 47.

His son Frederik, now married, also settles in The Hague.


Late in 1860 Frederik Pronk moves with his family to Utrecht. His addresses are successively Potterstraat C 118 (from 29 November, 1860), Catharijnesingel L 166a (from 24 October, 1861) and Van Wijckskade H 326 (from 30 April, 1863).

On 7 December, 1868, Frederik Pronk leaves for New York; his wife and children leave Utrecht on the same date, with Prussia as their destination. The photographer George Lodewijk Mulder takes over his last address, Van Wijckskade H326.


In November, 1862, Henri Pronk returns from Paris and a short time later opens what he himself describes as an atelier with the most modern photographic apparatus in Utrecht, on the Singel, near the Willemsbrug (later Van Wijckskade). It is very likely that this is the same address where Frederik Pronk is registered as living from April, 1863.

For a number of years this Utrecht studio becomes the supplier of portraits for those in Utrecht’s intellectual and aristocratic circles. Portrait photos by Pronk, and those of the lithographers and photographic firm ‘De Industrie’, run by the painter D. van Lokhorst, temporarily replace the usual engraved or lithographed portraits of the rectores magnifici of the University in the Utrecht student almanacs, where they appeared as frontispieces.

Pronk’s Hague atelier continues to operate along with the Utrecht location; it is very likely that Frederik Pronk was managing the branch in Utrecht.


In addition to The Hague and Utrecht, Henri Pronk is also active in Zwolle.


On 6 June Henri Pronk, with his wife and one daughter, leave The Hague and settle in Zoeterwoude.

The atelier in The Hague, on the Willemstraat, is continued by Louis Anten, under the business name Pronk-Anten. Presumably Pronk had already worked with Anten for some time, or the latter had been his employee.

After Louis Anten’s death – he dies in 1868 at the young age of 27 – the firm is continued to 1899, still under the name Pronk-Anten, by Jacobus Marinus Wilhelmus de Louw, Louis Anten’s father-in-law.


Together with one Van Koolbergen, perhaps the Johannes Cornelis van Koolbergen who would later marry his daughter Helena, Pronk founds a chamois leather factory on the ‘Delftschen Vliet, near Lammen, south of Zoeterwoude’.

The factory building is totally reduced to ashes by a fire on the night of 21/22 February, 1872. The firm is disbanded on 31 December, 1872.


From 2 January to 7 April Pronk lives at Zoeterwoudseweg 12, in Zoeterwoude.


On 30 May, 1884, Henri Pronk and his wife move from Zoeterwoude to Amsteldijk 29, in Amsterdam. In May, 1887, they move into Ruischstraat 11, also in Amsterdam.


On 3 May they leave the Ruischstraat and travel to Berlin. According to the municipal register of Nijmegen, they return from Berlin on 1 November, 1890, and take up residence at Van Trieststraat 9 in Nijmegen.


Henri Pronk dies in Nijmegen on 21 January, 1893.


Henri Pronk belonged to the first generation of professional photographers in The Netherlands. In the mid-1840s, presumably shortly after his marriage, he became a daguerreotypist.

The articles by G.A. Evers, the first Dutch photo historian, are the only sources that report he was a painter. It could be that Pronk, like so many others, came to photography via painting, but it is equally likely that he came encountered photography as a merchant, for instance through his store dealing in fancy goods. Fancy goods stores were the ‘department stores’ of the 19thy century. In Pronk’s time the owners of such shops moved from one temporary location to another. An 1843 advertisement announces that Henri Pronk had ‘set up shop in Het Wapen van Bern, on the Spui’, where he is offering the latest in fancy goods, including „…choice Ornaments of Perl d’Amour, fine Inkwells, Gaming Boxes, Sewing Boxes and Baskets, various Boullework objects, including work tables, Presentation Trays, Tea Chests, Spoon Boxes and all else that makes up a complete table service, and a multitude of small objects very suitable for Vitrines and gifts.” It was not unusual for such shops to also be sales outlets for photographic articles. Franz Wilhelm Deutmann in Haarlem, one of the first photographers who settled permanently in The Netherlands, had also originally been a dealer in fancy goods.

In later years Pronk was for some time an agent for a society for the promotion of industry, with its headquarters in Paris. In connection with this function he regularly travelled to Paris, and could there closely follow the developments in photography.

The photographs by Henri Pronk which have come donw to us introduce him primarily as a portraitist. The many advertisements which he placed in newspapers, in which he praised his portrait work, also indicate that the portrait was his speciality. He apparently had a very good reputation as a photographer, because among his clientele he counted many persons from the nobility and prominent families, both in The Hague and in Utrecht and its vicinity. Even Prince Willem, the eldest son of King Willem III, had his portrait done by Pronk, a carte de visite portrait in a very relaxed and unconventional pose.

Because of their larger dimensions, the portraits that he did of professors at Utrecht University, for use in the student almanacs, are exceptions to the countless cartes de visite that Pronk produced: portrait busts of the professors in their academic robes. Further, in one of these almanacs there are two architectural studies, one of the ambulatory of the Utrecht Academiegebouw, and one of the Rijks Hogere Burgerschool, the only examples of this genre in Pronk’s oeuvre.

Our knowledge about the photographic techniques Pronk employed is fortunately not limited only to the rather small number of examples that form his legacy: a daguerreotype and a number of albumen prints that are all of good quality, with rich contrast and lighting that is not too flat. Thanks to the advertisements that he regularly placed in newspapers to attract customers, the corner of the veil is now and then lifted regarding this techniques. He coloured his daguerreotypes, or had that done by retouchers from Paris and London, like Messrs. Cardite and Collings, who, according to an 1858 advertisement in Arnhem, were his assistants. For their preservation, he also treated his daguerreotypes, available in whole, half and quarter plate size, with a gold chloride bath.

According to Evers, it was Pronk and his French colleague La Moile who introduced the residents of Utrecht to the reverse prism for the first time. This device, mounted on the lens of the camera, corrected an inherent problem in daguerreotypes, where the image was recorded on the glass plate as a mirror image of reality. This gave a much more natural effect than when ,,…in the normal Daguerreotype the right side comes on the left, and the left on the right, and the facial features are reversed”.

The naturalness of Pronk’s daguerreotypes was minutely described in the Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant of 9 August, 1851: ,,…the tone is warm; there is depth and translucence in the shadows and half tints, and the time to sit is so short, that the life and the expression, which is demanded to animate the countenance, is rendered with mathematical purity; in one word, nature is seized in a single grasp.” Pronk made the transition from daguerreotypes to prints on paper in 1857. An 1869 advertisement from the Pronk-Anten studio called attention to the fact that ,,…all Portraits which have been produced since 1857 still exist as undamaged negatives, so that one can always obtain a print from them”. According to the advert, by that date the archive comprised 5000 negatives in total!

In terms of design Pronk followed the traditional paths of photographic portrait art. The surviving daguerreotype is a portrait of a woman, three-quarter in profile, in the form of the three-quarter length ‘knee piece’ so often used in the 1850s. This type also appears in his cartes de visite, but more often he photographed the sitter full length against a painted background or with studio furniture, such as a desk, a column, fences or pilasters. In these carte de visite portraits one is struck by how Pronk regularly repeated various ways of posing, for instance standing by a desk with a hand on a book, or sitting by a table, the right arm resting on the table and a book in the hand or on the lap; in almost all cases the sitter looks into the camera. One can definitely speak of stereotypic poses with Pronk, with several happy exceptions, such as the portrait of crown prince Willem. There is however considerable variation in the accoutrements with which he photographed people. He apparently possessed more in the way of furniture, props and backdrops than he did inventiveness in composition.

What would undoubtedly have been the most interesting part of Pronk’s oeuvre, the numerous daguerreotypes, have not withstood the ravages of time, or have disappeared into collections as anonymous daguerreotypes. His carte de visite portraits and the larger format portraits of professors can regarded as examples for the quality of the better Dutch portrait ateliers in the 1850s and 1860s: technically competent portraits with a certain sophistication in the pose and accoutrements, but also already foreshadowing the of the stereotypical portrait that was produced so often in the following decades.


Primary bibliography

Advertenties in dagbladen, waaronder:

Goessche Courant 26 juni 1851.

Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 9, 20 en 27 augustus 1851; 6 en 20 september 1851; 15 oktober 1851.

Arnhemsche Courant 17 september 1858.

Dagblad van Zuidholland en ’s-Gravenhage 9, 10 en 11 juni 1867.


images in:

Utrechtsche Stundenten Almanak voor het jaar 1865, Utrecht 1864 (titelplaat).

Utrechtsche Stundenten Almanak voor het jaar 1866, Utrecht 1865 (titelplaat).

Utrechtsche Stundenten Almanak voor het jaar 1867, Utrecht 1866, na p. 128.

Utrechtsche Stundenten Almanak voor het jaar 1868, Utrecht 1867 (titelplaat).

L.J. van der Klooster (samenst.), Oranje in beeld, Een familiealbum uit de 19de eeuw, Zaltbommel (Europese Bibliotheek) 1966, p. 172.

Catalogus tent. Foto-portret, Den Haag (Gemeentemuseum) 1970, p. 78.

Secondary bibliography

Bulletin de la Société Frangaise de Photographie 1 (1855), p. 277 (verslag van vergadering).

Dagblad van Zuidholland en ’s-Gravenhage 22 februari 1871, p. 2.

Leidsche Courant 22 februari 1871, p. 1.

G.A. Evers, De invoering der fotografie in Utrecht, in Lux 29 (1918), p. 13, 153.

E. (= G.A. Evers), Hoe de fotografie in Utrecht kwam, in Maandblad van ‘Oud-Utrecht’ 9 (1934), p. 66-67, 84.

L.J. van der Klooster (samenst.), Oranje in beeld, Een familiealbum uit de 19de eeuw, Zaltbommel (Europese Bibliotheek) 1966, p. 7.

J.E.J. Geselschap, De fotografie te ‘s-Gravenhage (lijst van 19de eeuwse fotografen in Den Haag), ongedateerde, getypte lijst in Gemeentearchief Den Haag. H.M. Mensonides, Een nieuwe kunst in Den Haag; encyclopedisch overzicht van de eerste Haagse fotografen, in jaarboek Die Haghe 1977, p. 69, 96, 104.

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

H.A.M. Janssen, De eerste fotografen binnen Nijmegen belicht 1843-1877. Julius Schaarwachter en … een voorbeeld van ‘jalousie de métier, in catalogus tent. Afstemmen op Afstammen, Nijmegen (Gemeente-archief) 1980, p. 73-77.

A.S. Stempher, Kroniek van de fotografie in Arnhem, 1839-1864, in Arnhem: elf facetten uit de 19de en 20ste eeuw, Zutphen (Walburg Pers) z.j. (ca. 1983), p. 139.


Société Francaise de Photographie, Parijs, vanaf 19 oktober 1855.


Amsterdam, Gemeentearchief.

Arnhem, Gemeentearchief.

Den Haag, Gemeentearchief.

Den Haag, Rijksarchief (Familiearchief Mackay van Ophemert no. 1109).

Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.

Nijmegen, Gemeentearchief.

Rotterdam, Gemeentearchief.

Rijswijk, Stichting Familiearchief Pronk.

Zoeterwoude, Gemeentearchief.


Amsterdam, Universiteitsbibliotheek.

Den Haag, Iconografisch Bureau.

Den Haag, Koninklijk Huisarchief.

Groningen, Gemeentearchief.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit.

Nijmegen, Gemeentearchief.

Utrecht, Gemeentearchief.