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

Norbert Kraus

Mattie Boom


Norbert Kraus was one of many emigrants that came from Germany and Austria to find work in the Netherlands in the 1930s. During his brief stay in the country, Kraus made portraits of several well-known figures in Dutch society. He was also represented at the exhibition Foto ’37.




Norbert Heinrich Josef Kraus is born in Vienna, Austria, on 15 October.

Circa 1932

Since the early 1930s, Kraus manages the photostudio ‘Norbert Kraus und Co.’ on the Linke Wienzeile 52 in Vienna.


Kraus weds Josepha (Eva) Krüper, a woman from the German city of Gelsenkirchen.


Norbert Kraus and his wife, Eva, move to The Hague on 19 June 1936, based on their contact with the Van Stipriaan Luïscius-Knapperts, a Dutch family formerly residing in Vienna. The Kraus’ initially live with the Van Stipriaans on the Prinsevinkenpark. On 6 March 1937, they move to their own home at Riouwstraat 111. Little more than a month later, on 26 April 1937, they move to No. 117 on the same street. Studio Kraus Den Haag is established at this address. Kraus even has an assistant, Ann Jäger.


At the HBS (Hogere Burgerschool, an upper-level secondary school) on the Bleijenburg in The Hague, Kraus takes Dutch language lessons given by Coba Franzie, who teaches foreign emigrants.

To make a living, Kraus occasionally makes working drawings and photographs for the company Gispen. Kraus also designs and makes a wall mural painting for the restaurant Chez Eliza in The Hague. In addition, the NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen, ‘Dutch Railways’) commissions Kraus to photograph the Dutch landscape. (These photographs, which were hung in the electric-powered trains, have not been preserved in the NS archive).


On 17 April, an exhibition of Kraus’ portrait photos opens Gispen’s showrooms on the Noordeinde in The Hague. Due to the overwhelming response, the exhibition is extended to 20 May. Ten of Kraus’ photographs are subsequently submitted as entries to the exhibition Foto ’37, held at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam starting on 19 June. In October, Kraus’ one-man exhibition is shown again at Gispen’s showroom on the Leidsestraat in Amsterdam.


Norbert Kraus submits a photographic animal study to the fifth Kerstsalon (‘Christmas Salon’) of the AAFV (Amsterdamse Amateur Fotografen Vereniging, ‘Amsterdam Amateur Photographers Association’). The salon opens late, in January 1939.


Kraus and his wife move to a new home on the Casuaristraat in The Hague, with a studio nearby on the Lange Houtstraat. On 10 May 1940—the day of the German invasion—a stray bomb that flies over The Hague hits the Kraus’ home on the Casuaristraat. Norbert Kraus, his wife Eva, and their friend Jo Otten, the editor of the magazine Filmliga (‘Film League’), are all killed. The studio on the Lange Houtstraat is spared. Shortly after, the photographer Hester Carsten takes over Kraus’ studio.


Norbert Kraus spent four years in the Netherlands just prior to the Second World War. He was one of many German and Austrian emigrants—typically writers and artists—who settled in the Netherlands primarily for political reasons in the 1930s. Kraus, who had remained virtually unknown in Vienna, devoted his time to making portrait photographs of friends and acquaintances in the style of New Photography. In part thanks to his Dutch friends Willem Gispen and Jo Otten, Kraus soon felt at ease in the cultural climate thriving in the Netherlands at this time, as well as taking part in the exhibition Foto ’37 held at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Kraus’ contact with the Netherlands is likely to have even encouraged him in furthering his photographic endeavours.

At the time Kraus came to the Netherlands, he was thirty-five. For several years prior to this time, he was running a portrait studio of his own in Vienna called Kraus und Co., located on the Linke Wienzeile. Where Kraus received his education—who bore the title of ‘Ingenieur’ (‘Engineer’)—and how he ended up in photography are questions that have remained unanswered. The reviews of his first exhibition in The Hague state that he was an architect, as well as a teacher at the art academy in Vienna. He may possibly have taught at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste (‘Academy of Fine Arts’) or the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchanstalt (‘Graphics Training and Research Institute’), where the photographer Maria Austria, who would later also seek refuge in the Netherlands, received her training.

Kraus’ first contact with the Netherlands was through the Van Stipriaan Luïscius-Knapperts, a Dutch family living in Vienna for a number of years. Passing by Kraus’ display case of portrait photographs standing on the Linke Wienzeile, the family decided to have their portrait photo taken. A friendship with the photographer and his wife quickly ensued. Robert Sobels, a Dutch actor studying with Max Reinhardt in Vienna, is also known to have had his portrait taken by Kraus. After the Van Stipriaans left Vienna for The Hague, they wrote letters encouraging Norbert and Eva to come to the Netherlands. In July 1936, the couple—who were Jewish—acted on the Van Stipriaans’ advice and subsequently emigrated to the Netherlands. The primary reasons for their decision was the difficulty they were having in finding ways to make a living and the unfriendly political climate in the Austrian republic. Less than one year later, in April 1937, Kraus was busy organising a major one-man exhibition in The Hague. The Kraus’ had become friends with the Dutch furniture designer and manufacturer Willem Gispen and his wife. In the modern designed showrooms of Gispen’s company, Kraus exhibited one hundred portraits taken during his time in Austria and the Netherlands. Included among the works exhibited were portraits of the minister of Finance, P.J. Oud, and M.A. Damme, the director of the Dutch national postal service. As stated in the newspaper and magazine reviews, the portraits and portrait studies were also accompanied by ‘splendid photos of animals’. At the exhibition’s opening, Willem Gispen held a speech in which he stated his vision of the photographic medium. A ‘natural conservatism’ and an aversion to technology were his explanation for why so many people had not yet come to view photography was a form of artistic expression. In showing that he was of a different opinion, Gispen presented an overview of the similarities between photography and other areas of art. Years of study and schooling were just as much a requirement when hoping to accomplish the complex techniques inherent to photography. Once the photographer/artist had mastered the medium—as with any art form, after all—he was then capable of ‘fully realising his thoughts, feelings and vision’. Kraus’ portraits were examples of artworks in which feeling and vision were indeed fully realised. After citing examples of portraits produced by the studio Hill & Adamson, Gispen asked his guests to view Kraus’ portraits not so much as ‘the beautiful faces of the people portrayed’, but more in terms of ‘the subjective relationship between the artist and object’. Gispen suggested that attendees closely examine how skilfully Kraus had infused these portraits with his interpretation.

The words of praise expressed by the critics convey the deep impression that Kraus’ photos had made. In a wording that appears as if directly quoted from Gispen’s speech, they applaud the strength of Kraus’ photographic work. In Wereldkroniek (‘World Chronicle’), on critic even dared to make a stylistic analysis: ‘In this portrait art, one notices the beautiful tints and the transitions between dark and light.’

In the portraits now preserved at the Leiden University Print Room and the images of Oud and Damme handed down to us through a written review, other stylistic traits remain to be observed. The model’s head typically filled the entire surface of the image, so that the frame encloses the face. The diagonal positioning of the head created a tension, which was sometimes heightened by the direction of the hands or arms. The model always looked away from the photographer, appearing as a solitary person lost in his thoughts. The careful treatment of artificial light and the alternating areas of dark and light were ultimately what Gispen was applauding in these portraits, specifically the way in which Kraus expressed the personality of the individual portrayed. The play of light and shadow and the positioning of the head were what determined the mood and depicted his vision of his model’s character and emotional state: sometimes strong, at other times daydreaming, friendly, or introverted. Most of the portraits were printed on glossy bromide paper. As a rule, Kraus chose the models for the exhibition portraits himself. When someone intrigued him, Kraus would ask to do his or her portrait. He would sometimes require an entire afternoon, as several of his models are known to have recalled. While the model was preoccupied with an activity such as reading a book, Kraus would circle around them, seeking the right composition and waiting to capture the moment he felt was most characteristic for the person in question. A majority of the clients at Studio Kraus’ clients were subjected to such a serious treatment.

In addition to these psychologising portraits, Kraus produced animal studies and photos of inanimate objects. After the exhibition in The Hague, Kraus sent a selection of ten photographs to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam for the big exhibition Foto ’37, which opened on 19 June. One photograph likely exhibited in the ‘Industrial Photography’ section was a still life with glass objects designed by A. Copier for the Leerdam Glass factory. Industrial photography was just one of the many aspects of the medium that the organisers—Eva Besnyö, Carel Blazer, and Paul Schuitema— wished to address with their expansive exhibition, which included 1,500 photographs. Photography was shown in all of its applications: portrait, advertising, fashion, medical, and journalistic photography were all represented. Work was shown by both Dutch and foreign photographers, including Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Laszló Moholy-Nagy, Berenice Abbott, Emmy Andriesse, Paul Guermonprez, and Cas Oorthuys, to name but a few.

While Kraus was a loner and in no way associated with any trade association or other photographic institution, his work bore the traits of New Photography, which had been practiced by various Dutch photographers since the early 1930s and exhibited at Foto ’37 and elsewhere.

Kraus’ interest in this approach to photography may possibly have arisen back in Vienna, prior to his arrival in the Netherlands. The exceptions to the scene in Vienna as described by Otto Hochreiter and Timm Starl in Geschichte der Fotografie in Österreich (‘History of Photography in Austria’) could just as easily apply to Norbert Kraus, though his name is nowhere to be found in this comprehensive overview. According to the book’s authors, in the 1930s there was no New Objectivist movement in Vienna. Nevertheless, traces of New Photography—as taught at the Bauhaus in Germany and elsewhere—were most certainly present in the work of a few Austrian photographers. The psychologising portraits of Trude Fleischmann and the work of Ernst Fürböck are characterised by their concise compositions, high degree of visual sharpness, and predilection for innovative and unusual perspectives: all characteristics as well found in Kraus’ work.

Kraus’ artistic success was not always financially beneficial. Just as in Vienna, Kraus was barely able to make a living in the Netherlands. He made additional money by producing working drawings and taking photographs for Gispen’s company. He also photographed for the NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen, ‘Dutch Railways’) and made a wall mural painting for Chez Eliza, a restaurant on the Hooikade in The Hague frequented by the Kraus’ and the Gispens. Kraus also led a socially active life in The Hague and associated with Dutch friends. Kraus is certain to have been in contact with other emigrants, as he studied the Dutch language in Coba Franzie’s classes for emigrants at the HBS (Hogere Burgerschool, an upper-level secondary school) on the Bleijenburg. The Kraus’ existence as emigrants in the Netherlands, however, was destined to end abruptly. Within one month of moving to their new home on the Casuaristraat, the Germans invaded the Netherlands. As German planes were flying over their heads, the Gispens wondered what the plight of their Austrian friends might be. They decided to go check, biking along the Prinsessegracht to the Kraus’ new home. When they got there, they found the Casuaristraat had been blockaded. A stray bomb—one of the few that had landed in The Hague—had come right down on the Kraus’ home. The facade was completely blown away, with a painting still dangling from one of the walls. Norbert and Eva were both killed, as well as Jo Otten, who had probably passed by for the very same reason the Gispens had come.

Kraus’ work was destined to a longer life. Either prior to or after Kraus’ death, several of his photographs found their way into the collection of Auguste Grégoire, a collector in The Hague. In 1948, a single portrait photo was included in a book compiled by Grégoire, entitled Honderd Jaar Fotografie (‘One Hundred Years of Photography’). Kraus’ photos were also shown at the exhibition Fotoschouw ’52 (‘Photo View ’52), held four years later at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. With the transfer of Grégoire’s collection to the Leiden University Print Room, one additional photo from a private collection was also added to Kraus’ surviving oeuvre.


Primary bibliography

images in:

André Koch, Industrieel ontwerper

W.H. Gispen een modern eclecticus (1890-1981), Rotterdam (De Hef) 1988, afb. 164, 195, 210.

Secondary bibliography

Auteur onbekend, Tentoonstelling fotoportretten. Werk van ingenieur N.H. Kraus, in Haagsche Courant 17 april 1937.

Auteur onbekend, Portretten van N.H. Kraus. Openingswoord van D.H. Gispen, in Het Vaderland 17 april 1937.

Auteur onbekend, Tentoonstelling van portretkunst, in De Wereldkroniek 24 april 1937.

Aug. Grégoire, Honderd jaar fotografie, Bloemendaal (Focus) 1948, p. 37 (met foto op niet-genummerde pagina).

Bert Schierbeek, Inleiding, in Jo Otten, Bed en wereld, Amsterdam (Meulenhoff) 1967, p. 12.

Flip Bool en Kees Broos (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1920-1940, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1979, p. 134, 142, 153.

Flip Bool en Ingeborg Leijerzapf, Fotografie, in Kathinka Dittrich, Paul Blom en Flip Bool (red.), Berlijn – Amsterdam 1920-1940 wisselwerkingen, Amsterdam (Querido) 1982, p. 244-245.

Catalogus tent. Zien en gezien worden. Fotografische zelfbespiegeling in Nederland van ca. 1840 tot heden, Nijmegen (Nijmeegs Museum ‘Commanderie van Sint-Jan’) 1983, p. 12, 88.

Mattie Boom, Norbert Kraus, ein Wiener Photograph in den Niederlanden, in Hans Würzner (samenstelling), Österreichische Exilliteratur in den Niederlanden 1934-1940, (Amsterdamer Publikationen zur Sprache und Literatur, 70. Band), Amsterdam (Rodopi) 1986, p. 157-164.


1937 (e) Den Haag, Toonzalen van de firma Gispen (Noordeinde).

1937 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, foto ’37.

1937 (e) Amsterdam, Toonzalen van de firma Gispen (Spuistraat).

1939 (g) Amsterdam, Gebouw Leesmuseum, 5e Amsterdamsche Kerstsalon van Fotografische Kunst.

1952 (g) Den Haag, Gemeentemuseum, Fotoschouw ’52.

1979 (g) Den Haag, Gemeentemuseum, Foto 20-40.

1983/1984 (g) Nijmegen, Nijmeegs Museum ‘Commanderie van Sint-Jan’, Zien en gezien worden. Fotografische zelfbespiegeling in Nederland van ca. 1840 tot heden.

1985 (g) Leiden, Prentenkabinet der Rijksuniversiteit, Österreichische Exilliteratur in den Niederlanden 1934-1940.

1986/1987 (g) Den Haag, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Österreichische Exilliteratur in den Niederlanden 1934-1940.


Amsterdam, Robert Sobels, mondelinge informatie.

Den Haag, Letterkundig Museum.

Den Haag, Mevr. R. Gispen-Van de Griend, mondelinge informatie.

Den Haag, Mej. A.B. Heijmans-Tromp, mondelinge informatie.

Den Haag, Mej. M.A. Sobels, mondelinge informatie.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.

Zeist, Mevr. E.C. Henkemans-Knappert, mondelinge informatie.


Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit.