PhotoLexicon, Volume 5, nr. 10 (December 1988) (en)

Wilhelm Ivens

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf


From 1871 to 1904, Wilhelm Ivens ran a studio for portrait photography in Nijmegen. In addition to portraiture, his chief specialty was producing cityscapes and landscapes in and around Nijmegen. Ivens was a skilled professional, who closely followed technical and chemical developments in photography and who succeeded in mastering every new photographic process. After Julius Schaarwächter, Ivens became the most important photographer in Nijmegen.




Wilhelm Ivens is born on 14 June in Efferen (Germany) as the illegitimate child of Heinrich Ivens, a cabinetmaker, and Margaretha Efferen. With the registration of Wilhelm’s birth, Heinrich Ivens declares he is the child’s biological father.


Around this time, Wilhelm Ivens arrives in Nijmegen for work. He studies photography. The identity of his teacher is unknown.


On 14 December, Ivens marries Jacoba Maria Gerarda van Leeuwen (born 24 June 1844 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch), who is five years his senior. The marriage certificate states that Ivens abides in Nijmegen, but resides in Deutz (near Cologne, Germany). The couple lives for a while in Nijmegen with the bride’s parents, C.A. van Leeuwen, a ‘master tailor’, and Hendrika Wilhelmina Jagers.


On 24 February, Ivens’ son, Cornelis Adrianus Pieter, is born. (Two daughters follow, born in 1872 and 1879). An advertisement in the Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant (‘Provincial Newspaper of Gelderland and Nijmegen’) on 5 November announces the opening of his photography studio: ‘W. Ivens, Photographer, has the honour to announce that he, since having worked in the Profession for 4 years in Nijmegen, has now opened on the Doddendaal, Wijk B 351, a Photographic Studio, and recommends his services for the production of Album, Cabinet Card and new Victoria portraits, as well as all Enlargements, promised at a reasonable price and prompt service.’ Prior to 1 September, Doddendaal B 351 had been the location of the studio of Gerard K.M.H. Korfmacher, who had moved to a new studio on the Molenstraat in Nijmegen.


In the Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant of 18 May, Ivens places an advertisement for: ‘Enamelled Photographs, Enlargements and Reproductions à la Rembrandt’.


Studio Ivens moves to the Houtstraat above the Bloemerstraat (next to the church), No. 308 (in subsequent years renumbered as No. 50 and later No. 56).


Ivens no longer limits himself to photo portraits and reproductions, but also offers his services to photograph buildings, landscapes, and family groups in gardens.


Ivens uses the recently manufactured dry plate, especially for taking children’s photos.


The photographer Gerardus Johannes Marinus Stoof (born in Utrecht on 31 October 1856) moves from Utrecht to Nijmegen in January. For several months, he stays at Ivens’ home. In August, he opens his own studio.


On 2 August, Ivens purchases the building at Houtstraat 20, across from the Scheidemakersgas, where he opens a newly furnished studio on 12 September.


Ivens becomes the secretary of the recently founded Vereeniging Humanitas (‘Humanitas Association’), an organisation extending care to ‘parentless and homeless’ children. The city council of Nijmegen loans Ivens a series of photos featuring the gateway and fortifications of Nijmegen prior to their demolition in 1876. Ivens is to make reproductions that can be made available for sale.


Ivens becomes the first chairman of the NFV (Nederlandsche Fotografen-Vereeniging, ‘Netherlands Photographers Association’). To celebrate the visit of Queen Emma and H.R.H. Princess Wilhelmina to Nijmegen on 1 July, Ivens presents a photo album to the queen and princess with twenty-four photos of Nijmegen and its surroundings. On 30 August, Ivens receives permission to use the title of ‘Hoffotograaf’ (‘Court Photographer’) from H.M. the Queen Widow of the Netherlands.


Ivens’ wife, Jacoba M.G. van Leeuwen, dies on 2 January at Vught. In March, a new curtain construction is installed at Ivens’ studio, ‘with which the ARTISTIC EFFECT of the portraits can be greatly ENHANCED.’ On 3 June, Wilhelm Ivens marries Elisa Maria Hubertina Hendriks (born in Venlo on 14 July 1861). One-and-a-half years later, a daughter is born. It is probably in this year that Ivens begins to suffer from an illness that will eventually become long term. His son, Kees, takes over the running of the studio, until he opens his own business in 1893. At this time, Ivens’ son-in-law, Coenraad Reijers, oversees Wilhelm Ivens’ studio.


The house number of Ivens’ studio is changed to Houtstraat 23. At this same address, C.A.P. (Kees) Ivens’ ‘Phototechnisch Bureau en Handel in Photographische Artikelen’ (‘Phototechnical Agency and Business in Photographic Supplies’) opens on 10 April. One year later, Kees Ivens moves his business to the Ganzenheuvel in Nijmegen.


On 18 November, the son of Kees Ivens, George Henri Antoon (Joris) Ivens, is born in Nijmegen. Wilhelm Ivens, the grandfather, is present as a witness of the birth’s registration at the civil registry the following day.


On 11 March, a notice appears in the Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant stating that the entire management of Wilhelm Ivens’ photography business has been transferred to C.H.J. Reijers. Studio Ivens is set up for ‘magnesium flash shots’.


Wilhelm Ivens dies on 11 November in Nijmegen from complications related to chronic bronchitis.


Wilhelm Ivens had good business instinct and an entrepreneurial spirit. With these qualities he was able to set up his own photography studio in a foreign country at the young age of twenty-three. Born in Germany, Ivens arrived in Nijmegen at the age of eighteen, drawn by the opportunities the city had to offer to a young apprentice. His talents in business ensured Ivens had work throughout his life in the city he had adopted as his hometown. He was alert to the commercial possibilities that photography had to offer and took advantage of current events and novel ideas in every field.

By his own account in the 5 November 1871 issue of the newspaper Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant, Ivens had already worked in Nijmegen for four years as a photographer before opening his own studio. The vagueness of his advertisement—he neglected to mention with whom and at what location this experience was obtained—cannot be clarified by any other source. Both his photography and his extensive knowledge of photographic processes, which he demonstrated from the outset of his career, suggest he had received a full-fledged training. Two photographers in Nijmegen could potentially have been Ivens’ mentor: Julius Schaarwächter and Gerard Korfmacher. The first, Schaarwächter, was established in Nijmegen for quite some time. He owned a busy portrait studio and photographed in and around the city. He was also a publisher. Because of the diverse nature of his activities, Schaarwächter had assistants working in his studio on a regular basis, whom he trained himself. Wilhelm Ivens could have been one of these assistants and might possibly have obtained his technical knowledge from this renowned teacher. The second possibility, Gerard Korfmacher, arrived in Nijmegen at the same time as Ivens, in 1867. In 1871, Ivens took over the address of Korfmacher’s studio. It could be just a coincidence, but if Ivens was working as his apprentice, he might have been given the option to take over his studio.

Like most of his colleagues, Wilhelm Ivens started out with portrait photography. He produced ‘Album, Cabinet Card and new Victoria portraits, as well as all ENLARGEMENTS’, but also ‘finely retouched photographs, and the same are finished in the up to life-size format in his Studio’. In the 1870s, the demand for larger formats in portrait photography was growing. People wanted not only carte-de-visite portraits in their albums, but also large framed photos of (deceased) family members mounted on the wall. Ivens satisfied this demand: he made enlargements and even sold the accompanying frames. At this time, enlargements often lacked sharpness and were prone to a loss of detail. This was due to the primitive method of enlarging using daylight enlargers: with retouching, pastel, watercolour, or oil paint, the photos were subsequently reworked and ‘brushed up’.

Things went well for Ivens, something that was apparent from the regular improvements he made to his studio space. First in 1878, and again in 1886, he moved his studio to a more spacious location on the Houtstraat. For this second location, architectural drawings and a description in the Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant of 12/13 September 1886 have survived: ‘The first floor provides access to an elegant reception room (in several days, a second waiting salon on the same floor as the street will be done first) and a spacious room where the retouchers can do their work and where other general activities are carried out after the shot. By no means unappealing is to catch a glimpse of the thousands of negatives there, which are set up and arranged in perfect order, as well as the very practically organised storage space for cardboard frames and other ingredients. The third floor is almost completely taken up by the studio with the Laboratory. This exceptionally large studio has been set up in such a way that, with a single hand manoeuvre of the photographer, he is able to cover or expose every corner of the glass roof with curtains. Because of this, the lighting can be regulated entirely on the photographer’s whim, one of the first requirements for modern photography. All other elements of the interior as well completely meet the most favourable of expectations, so that no one will find his demands unfulfilled.’ Ivens’ motto was clearly ‘staying abreast of things’. The improvements made to his business were announced in newspaper advertisements. In 1891, he had a new curtain construction installed. In 1893, a new storefront window was installed and Ivens acquired equipment for ‘magnesium flash shots’, specifically for parties, interiors, etc. This equipment was undoubtedly acquired through his son, Kees Ivens, who ran his own import business in photography supplies.

Wilhelm Ivens was best known for his views of Nijmegen and its surroundings. In the early 1880s, he began advertising his activities outside the studio, which he described as the ‘photographing of Buildings and Landscapes, as well as Family Groups in Gardens, etc.’ In 1887, Ivens received a series of old photos from the city council of Nijmegen depicting the city’s fortifications, with the request that they be reproduced and published anew. According to a catalogue of Nijmegen’s Museum van Oudheden (‘Museum of Antiquities’) from 1890, these photos were taken by the photographer Gerard Korfmacher, who was commissioned for this task by the city of Nijmegen in 1876, shortly before the demolition of the fortification and defensive ramparts. Ivens printed this series in the cabinet card format and published them under his own name as a pendant to a series of views depicting Nijmegen that he had taken in the mid-1880s. Gerard Korfmacher also sold the photos of the fortifications under his own name. On the occasion of Queen Emma and Princess Wilhelmina’s visit to Nijmegen in 1890, Ivens compiled an album with twenty-four of the best cityscapes at the request of the Nijmegen city council. This album was presented to the royal guests in commemoration of their visit. In a follow-up to this event, Ivens filed a request with the Queen, asking permission to bear the title of ‘Court Photographer to Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands’. This permit was subsequently granted.

Ivens’ landscape photos shot in the vicinity of Nijmegen bear the same merit as his cityscapes: views of the Waal River, the road to Berg en Dal, the surroundings of Neerbosch, etc. In the winters of 1891 and 1893, Ivens took landscape shots and photos of the ice near the Waal River as commemorative photos for the public. The region in which Ivens worked was by no means large. He was, however, very much involved in virtually everything of interest that was taking place in Nijmegen. One case in point is a series he made in collaboration with the ‘Maatschappij tot exploitatie van een Velocipedenbaan’ (‘Society for the Exploitation of a Velocipede Track’) in Nijmegen, entitled ‘Photographiën van de baan met welgelijkende portretten der deelnemers’ (‘Photographs of the Track with Lifelike Portraits of the Participants’). Making a profit from such novelties was one of Ivens’ strengths. In 1888, he was the first to photograph P. van Rijn’s new steam machine wonder, the ‘Noviomagum’, together with his son, Kees Ivens, who was also a fellow passenger in the seat at the rear. The Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant made repeated mention of the existence of such photos and the manner in which they could be acquired.

Ivens was also involved in the cultural and religious life of Nijmegen. When the actress Catharina Beersmans came to Nijmegen in March 1887 to put on a play in celebration of the twenty-fifth year of her acting career, Ivens took her portrait. The photo was enwreathed with laurels and silver and hung in the foyer of the civic theatre. Each year in April, Ivens kept one or two days reserved for photographing children going to communion.

In the many newspaper advertisements that Ivens placed from 1871 on, he often praised his own technical capacities. From the very start, he offered a wide variety of techniques and formats: albumen prints in the carte-de-visite, cabinet card, and large-scale formats, photos on enamel, enlargements in chalk pencil, pastel, watercolour, oil paint, and carbon print. Around 1890, the platinotype was also introduced to his repertoire. In this period, Ivens also mastered various photochemical processes, which he referred to as ‘Phototypes’, perhaps a photolithographic or calotype technique.

In his portrait art, Ivens was extremely austere. In the 1870s, he sometimes used studio attributes for his carte-de-visite portraits. Most often, however, and certainly in his later years, he kept his backgrounds neutral. Following the fashion of the carte-de-visite portrait, he took photos in full-length, as well as so-called ‘knee pieces’ and bust portraits. In his landscapes and cityscapes, Ivens chose for a high vantage point whenever possible in order to achieve a clear and spacious view. He usually positioned himself directly in front of his subject, being highly aware of the distorting effect brought about by perspective. In determining his camera angle, he was also mindful of balanced forms and lines within the frame. The photos Ivens shot were sharply defined, with a high-contrast exposure.

Ivens was a skilled and presumably ambitious man, who also possessed a talent for organisation. In 1890, he was made chairman of the NFV (Nederlandsche Fotografen-Vereeniging, ‘Netherlands Photographers Association’), the first association for professional photographers in the Netherlands. Due to health complications, however, Ivens was obliged to hand his function over to Carl Mögle, a fellow photographer in Rotterdam, after only two years.

Wilhelm Ivens passed his love for the profession of photography on to his son, C.A.P. (Kees) Ivens. This would later prove to have important consequences for the photographic climate in the Netherlands: as the founder of CAPI-LUX, Kees Ivens would go on to build an empire in photographic supplies in the Netherlands. Wilhelm Ivens gave his son the opportunity to study photochemistry at the Technische Hochschule (‘Technical College’) of Professor H.W. Vogel in Berlin. After two years, in about 1890, Kees was forced to suspend his studies prematurely, due to his father’s long-term illness. He took over the running of his father’s busy photo studio, which employed four people. Upon founding the ‘Phototechnisch Bureau en Handel in Photographische Artikelen’ (‘Photo-Technical Agency and Business in Photographic Supplies’) in 1893, Kees Ivens passed his father’s studio onto his brother-in-law, the photographer Coenraad Reijers.

Wilhelm Ivens was one of the professionally skilled photographers who managed to maintain the high level of Dutch photography during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Ivens combined his photographic craftsmanship and capable brushwork with good taste. It was for this reason that Joris Ivens, Wilhelm’s grandson, described him as an artist. With the exception of his involvement in the founding of a nation-wide professional association for photographers, Ivens’ significance was nevertheless primarily local in nature.


Primary bibliography

Advertenties in Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 1871-1900.

Wilh. Ivens, (artikel betrekking hebbend op de NFV) in Lux 1 (juni 1890) 8.p. 141-144.

Maandelijksche vergaderingen der Ned. Fot. Ver., in Lux 2 (februari 1891) 5, p. 150-151.


images in:

Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 1/2 april 1900.

R. Abma e.a. (red.), Stad aan de Waal. Nijmegen van Romeinse tot moderne stad, Nijmegen (Dwarsstap) 1984, p. 109.

Secondary bibliography

J.H.A. Scheers en Th.H.AJ. Abeleven, Verslag der Commissie ter verzekering eener goede bewaring van gedenkstukken van geschiedenis en kunst te Nijmegen, over het jaar 1876, januari 1877, in Jaarverslag Commissie Gedenkteekenen 1863-1879 (gebundelde jaarverslagen in het Gemeentearchief te Nijmegen).

J.M. Noorduijn, Maatschappij tot exploitatie van een Velocipedenbaan te Nijmegen, in Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 20 augustus 1885.

Auteur onbekend, Nijmegen, 11 september, in Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 12/13 september 1886.

Auteur onbekend, Nijmegen, 25 februari, in Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 26 februari 1887.

Auteur onbekend, Nijmegen, 3 maart, in Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 4 maart 1887.

Auteur onbekend, Nijmegen, 2 april, in Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 5 april 1887.

Auteur onbekend, Nijmegen, 2 juni, in Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 3/4 juni 1888.

Th.H.AJ. Abeleven en A.M. van Voorthuysen, Catalogus van het Museum van Oudheden te Nijmegen. 2de Gedeelte Gedenkteekenen van Middeleeuwschen oorsprong en van lateren tijd, Nijmegen (F.E. MacDonald) 1890, p. 438-440.

S., Vergadering van fotografen in Café Krasnapolsky, 13 maart 1890, in Lux 1 (april 1890) 7, p. 109-111, 114-115.

Pierre Weynen, Nederlandsche Fotografen-Vereeniging. Verslag der vergadering, gehouden op 15 mei 1890, te Amsterdam, in Lux 1 (juni 1890) 9, p. 144-149.

Meinard van Os, Nederlandsche Fotografen-Vereeniging. Verslag der vergadering, gehouden op 13 november 1890, Poolsche Koffiehuis, te Amsterdam, in Lux 2 (december 1890) 3, p. 65-67.

A.D. Loman jr., Nederlandsche Fotografen-Vereeniging. Verslag der vergadering op 12 februari 1891. Hotel Maassen ‘sGravenhage, in Lux 2 (maart 1891) 6, p. 161-165.

Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 20 februari 1892.

Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 1 december 1892.

Meinard van Os, Tentoonstelling ter bevordering van de belangen der fotografie, in Lux 4 (juni 1893) (tentoonstellingsbijvoegsel).

Rusticus, Schetsen en typen uit de fotowereld. C.A.P.I., in Focus 4 (10 november 1917) 22, p.319-321.

Auteur onbekend, Over fotohandel en fotografie in Nederland, in Bedrijfsfotografie 17 (31 mei 1935) 11, p. 212.

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1839-1920, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978, p. 98.

Joris Ivens en Robert Destanque, Aan welke kant en in welk heelal. De geschiedenis van een leven, Amsterdam (Meulenhoff) 1983, p. 26.

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf, Wilhelm Ivens: een leven in de fotografie in Nijmegen, in Numaga 35 (1988) 3, p. 73-79.


NFV, vanaf 1890 (medeoprichter en 1 ste voorzitter van 1890-1892).


1893 Verguld zilveren medaille, Afdeeling A (Vakfotografen), Tentoonstelling ter bevordering van de belangen der fotografie, Haarlem.


1893 (g) Haarlem, lokaal „Felix Favore”, Tentoonstelling ter bevordering van de belangen der fotografie.


Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.

Nijmegen, Gemeentearchief.

Nijmegen, André Stufkens, mondelinge informatie.


Den Haag, Koninklijk Huisarchief (o.a. album met foto’s van Nijmegen uit 1890)

Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit.

Nijmegen, Archief Paters Jezuïten.

Nijmegen, Gemeentearchief.