PhotoLexicon, Volume 6, nr. 12 (September 1989) (en)

Gerrit Kiljan

Ankie de Jongh- Vermeulen

Hripsimé Visser


Gerrit Kiljan—along with Piet Zwart and Paul Schuitema—was a pioneer of the so-called New Photography. His chief activities were in the area of education: it was on his initiative that a department of advertising was established at the KABK (Koninklijke Academie voor Beeldende Kunsten, ‘Royal Academy of Art’) in The Hague in 1930. Photography was an essential component of the department’s programme, which Kiljan directed together with Paul Schuitema, and later, Paul Guermonprez. Together they were responsible for the formation of a generation of photographers whose work has largely determined the profile of twentieth-century photography in the Netherlands. Because of his work as a teacher, Kiljan’s own (advertising) photography remained second priority. His most interesting assignments were realised around 1930.




Gerardus (Gerrit) Kiljan is born on 26 October in Hoorn as the son of Gijsbertus Kiljan and Hiltje Brouwer.


Kiljan, his parents, and two brothers move to Amsterdam.


For three years, Gerrit Kiljan takes courses in the department of Decoratief Teekenen en Lithografie (‘Decorative Drawing and Lithography’) at the Kunstnijverheid Teekenschool Quellinus (‘Applied Art Drawing School Quellinus’) in Amsterdam. From 1904 to February 1913, Kiljan is also a student at the Koninklijke Vereeniging tot Opleiding voor Ambachten en Beroepen (‘Royal Association for the Education of Vocational Trades and Professions’).


Kiljan works for one year as an apprentice lithographer at Steen- en Boekdrukkerij Faddegon en Co. (a lithography and book printing company) in Amsterdam.

Kiljan starts with evening classes (etching and drawing) at the RABK (Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, ‘National Academy of Fine Arts’) in Amsterdam, where Antoon Derkinderen is the director.


Kiljan works for four years as an illustrator and retoucher for the company L. van Leer, in Amsterdam. In 1914, he stops with his evening study at the RABK.


In 1914, Kiljan obtains his secondary school certificate in ‘hand-drawing’ and decorative drawing. In 1916, he receives his certificate in ‘rectilinear drawing’.

In 1914, Kiljan begins working as a teacher in Amsterdam: for one year with the evening classes for ship mechanics at the Middelbare Technische School (‘Secondary Technical School’); next at the Tweede Ambachtsschool (‘Second Vocational School’) until 1918; followed by the Avondambachtsschool (‘Evening Vocational School’) until 1919.

During the academic year 1918-’19, Kiljan also teaches at the Dagteken- en Kunstambachtsschool voor meisjes (‘Drawing Day-School and Art Vocational School for Girls’) in Amsterdam.

Through personal connections, Kiljan becomes an assistant at the KABK (Koninklijke Academie voor Beeldende Kunsten, ‘Royal Academy of Art’) in The Hague for lessons in decorative drawing and ornamentation. In 1919, he is also chosen to give the evening classes. Kiljan moves to The Hague.


From 1920 tot 1930, Kiljan also teaches at the ABK (Academie van Beeldende Kunsten en Technische Wetenschappen, ‘Academy of Visual Arts and Technical Sciences’) in Rotterdam, where Piet Zwart presents the evening classes.


On 18 July, Kiljan marries Henriëtte A. Guldemond and moves to Voorburg.


Kiljan becomes a member of Opbouw, an association to which Zwart and Schuitema also belong.

Circa 1928, Kiljan begins to experiment with photographic technique.


On Kiljan’s initiative, the advertising department—referred to as ‘A6’—opens its doors at the KABK in The Hague, the first department of advertising at an academy in the Netherlands, with photography forming an essential part of the study programme. On 18 June, Kiljan cancels his membership in the VANK (Nederlandsche Vereeniging voor Ambachts- en Nijverheidskunst, ‘Netherlands Association for Applied and Industrial Art’), as he can no longer identify with what he sees as the out-dated insights of this applied art association.


For the PTT (the former Dutch national postal, telegraph, and telephone company), Kiljan designs a series of children’s postage stamps ‘Voor het misdeelde kind’ (‘For the Underprivileged Child’).


Kiljan establishes the department of ‘Industrial Design’ at the KABK in The Hague.


Kiljan retires from the KABK in The Hague as a pensioner.


Kiljan dies on 21 November in Leidschendam, where he has resided since 1936.


Gerrit Kiljan was no more of a photographer from the start than the two other pioneers of the New Photography in the Netherlands, Paul Schuitema and Piet Zwart. The history of modern photography in the Netherlands is inextricably linked to revolutionary ideas about design and architecture occurring in the 1920s. These ideas especially took form within ‘Opbouw’, a left-wing, Russian-oriented association for architects and artists in Rotterdam. The ideal of a new society thrived within Opbouw, where social revolution was to be accompanied by design (and architecture), based on contemporary technologies and methods of production.

Zwart and Schuitema—who both had numerous contacts outside the Netherlands, especially with German and Russian artists and typographers—were already members by the time Kiljan joined the association in 1928. Their interaction with one another and their mutual bond within the same organisation and ideals brought about an intensive exchange of ideas and experiences.

Kiljan’s interest in politics was less explicit than that of Schuitema and Zwart. He was a pedagogue pur sang, who tried to realise his social-minded goals within art education, a world which he knew extremely well, based on his own education and the successive teaching positions he held.

Kiljan had initially studied to become a decorative illustrator and lithographer. He was professionally employed as an illustrator for a period of five years. His interest, however, lay in finding a job as a teacher. He studied to obtain his secondary drawing certificates in the evening hours, and after 1914, he was an instructor with a full-time position: first for a number of years at various trade schools in Amsterdam, starting in 1918 at the KABK (Koninklijke Academie voor Beeldende Kunsten, ‘Royal Academy of Art’) in The Hague, and from 1920 on, he was as well teaching at the ABK (Academie van Beeldende Kunsten en Technische Wetenschappen, ‘Academy of Visual Arts and Technical Sciences’) in Rotterdam. Kiljan consistently worked in the departments of applied art. In The Hague, he began as an assistant for classes in decorative drawing and ornament, and in Rotterdam he taught the ‘decorators and applied artists’.

For anyone interested in developments in art education in the 1920s, the Bauhaus in Dessau was the ideal example. A lecture that Kiljan presented in 1929 at ‘Arti et Industriae’, an artist’s association in The Hague, is filled with the Bauhaus ideology. In his lecture (which has been preserved), entitled ‘De kunst van het verleden en de kunst van de toekomst’ (‘The Art of the Past and the Art of the Future’), Kiljan argued for the abolishment of out-dated values such as art, talent, and the individual. In his eyes, these values were to blame for the fact that ‘contemporary art has become the exception in life’. All design had to adapt itself to and be shaped by one’s own era. Instead of applying antiquated techniques, one had to take advantage of the new technical possibilities: ‘our thinking will have to be focussed on the possibilities that are present in modern technology and materials’. For Kiljan, design determined by aesthetic values was a thing of the past: ‘A functional and technically evolved form is (therefore) also a visual form’. Finally, he declared the role of oil painting to be finished: ‘the future is in photographic art [‘lichtbeeldkunst’, literally ‘light image art’], therefore film and photography in its broadest sense’. These words echo the notions of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the Bauhaus teacher who was well-known in progressive Opbouw circles in the Netherlands through his articles in the Dutch magazines De Stijl (1922) and i 10 (1927), as well as his own book Malerei Photographie Film (‘Paintings Photography Film’, 1925). In his lecture, Kiljan referred to Moholy-Nagy implicitly—and perhaps also to developments in Russia—when he spoke of the international orientation of his efforts: ‘An as yet small, but growing international group has become conscious of the polarity between contemporary art and life. They have converted to life, because they realise that living labour can only be born from life itself.’

At the time Kiljan gave this lecture, he had only been experimenting with photography for a short time. In 1928, Piet Zwart— who was in charge of the Dutch entry to the seminal international exhibition Film und Foto (Fifo, ‘Film and Photo’), to be held at Stuttgart in 1929—asked Kiljan to contribute work. The Fifo exhibition catalogue mentions only one advertising photo by Kiljan. In all likelihood, this was his combination print for Yardley lavender soap. This photo is a typical example of New Photography: a wash basin photographed from above and positioned diagonally in the image. The letters on the soap are clearly legible, but through the use of a combination print, as well in the water. Like Schuitema and Zwart, Kiljan continued experimenting intensively with photography after the Fifo exhibition. Zwart wrote the following in his article entitled ‘Gereinigde fotografie’ (‘Cleansed Photography’), published in the exhibition catalogue of Foto ’48: ‘They were not exciting topics that we photographed. What was exciting was what we were doing. There was no system to these discoveries; wilfulness was foreign to us. We were actually toying around with the camera, making all kinds of jokes (…) Kiljan perhaps pursued the immediately observable light effects most systematically: water droplets with their transparent shadows in the calyx of a flower, [or] a row of plants in a window with backlight.’

In the years 1929­–’30, Kiljan made a number of free photographic compositions based on everyday subjects photographed in an objective manner: coconuts, water droplets on a cactus, articles of clothing, pills on a glass plate, a hairbrush, kitchen utensils, and experiments with a mirror. Kiljan then subsequently exhibited these photos, which were not specifically taken for advertising purposes, at different exhibitions of photography and print advertising in the early 1930s. In 1928, Zwart had previously argued for innovation in art education and for the introduction of classes such as typography, photography, and film in the newspaper Het Vaderland (‘The Fatherland’). In response to the Fifo exhibition in mid-1929, Zwart once again pointed out the deplorable level of Dutch photography in comparison with the technically superior photos of the United States and Germany. Kiljan, by this time, was already working on an internal memorandum that addressed various issues, including the suggestion to make photography a part of the educational programme at the KABK (Koninklijke Academie voor Beeldende Kunsten, ‘Royal Academy of Art’) in The Hague. The first part of the memorandum pleads for what was later described in the academy’s programme guide as ‘Geschiedenis der vormontwikkeling’ (‘History of Form Development’). Kiljan proposed that one had to teach an understanding of a vision determined by the circumstances of the time, from which design took its form in various periods of history. This vision also had to serve as the foundation for one’s own work: ‘The vision is determined parallel to and based upon the ideal and visual possibilities of technology as a time factor. In all periods, we find figurists, but the figure’s interpretation varied extremely as time progressed (vision). The only thing that is important is to understand and follow the genetic factors of the vision (…) The genetic factors: technology and reality should be the fundamental starting point as well in education’. This article ends with the words: ‘A more complete portrait becomes attainable through film rather than painting’. These ideas were further elucidated in the second part of the memorandum, in which the ‘lichtbeeld’ art (photography and film) was compared to oil painting and other painting techniques: ‘From the technical and visual-genetic perspectives, the lichtbeeld [literally ‘light image’] is further’.

At the same time, Kiljan developed a tentative learning plan for an advertising department that would include photography and film as ‘a new visualising option and necessity’. The learning plan was divided into two parts: ‘lichtbeeld’ (film and photography) as an autonomous expression and their applied forms. Regarding the kinds of classes: ‘the design and production of [‘lichtbeelden’] in the broadest sense of the word and their subsequent application in designs; Development of insight into the social and cultural constellations; Normalisation; Typography.’ Two other articles by Kiljan dating from this period provide insight into his ideas concerning the functioning of the study. The first is an introduction on behalf of the ‘Department of Advertising Designs’, in which he proposes that ‘the activity of everyone must benefit the community’. With this, he also provided a coherent definition of what good advertising was supposed to be: ‘It is the task of this department to teach the students the distinction between producing advertising for interests that are in stride with the community’s interests, and determining the proper stance in response to this as good members of the community’. In this introduction, he also suggested that didactic working forms be set up, which were far ahead of their time. He posited that the students’ own experiments and personal experiences were their most important teachers, not the experience of the instructors. Past students’ recollections confirm there was very little teaching in a traditional manner: assistance occurred only at the request of the students themselves in response to specific problems.

The other article is a written report of a meeting organised by Kiljan, which included Schuitema (on Kiljan’s request) and two senior students. This report resulted in a series of goals that underscore once again just how new this study of content and form really was: ‘We are going to set up an organisation, a working community. The form of working will not be ‘school-like’. The students will have to learn to work themselves, to organise a working community themselves and to manage things themselves, to prevent them from suddenly landing in the real world unknown to them (…) All people’s doing is a result of experience. The work will be experimental, the teachers are the advisors.’

Thanks to the enthusiastic cooperation of J.H. Plantenga, who was then director of the KABK in The Hague, Kiljan’s ideas about advertising education were actually realised. The department of advertising photography—referred to by the students as ‘A6’, based on the specially renovated classroom, which included a darkroom—opened for the first time in the academic year 1930–’31 as a four-year full-time study and a five-year evening study. Kiljan taught photography with the full-time programme until 1934: seven hours per week in the second and third year of the study, fourteen hours in the final year. Just as at the Bauhaus, the first year was a ‘Vorkurs’ (‘preliminary course’), with students able to decide their own specialisation in the second year. In the programme book of 1930 put together by Kiljan, the different classes are described as follows: ‘geometric and vocational drafting, drawing after nature, form grammar, descriptive geometry, history of form development, form and colour normalisation, practical study (‘practijk’), design, photography, and lithography’. With this move, traditional applied art courses, such as drawing from plasters and decorative drawing, were no longer offered in this department and were replaced by a number of entirely new ones. The photography study programme included the following tasks: ‘the study of visual possibilities specific to photography; the study of technical and theoretical problems in relation to the practical application of photography; knowledge of the equipment, materials and instruments used in photography; taking studio and outdoor shots as well as shots necessary for the completion of practical training assignments; the treatment and study of manipulations required for the practice of photography’. Starting in 1934, all of the classes in the fourth year were referred to as ‘designing and photographing’. They were given both by Kiljan and Paul Schuitema, who was also an instructor at the academy from 1930 onwards. In 1935, Paul Guermonprez, a former student at the Bauhaus, was hired as an instructor in the advertising department. His classes—like Schuitema’s—were primarily aimed at providing practical experience. In 1939, an ex-student, Carel J. Tirion, replaced Guermonprez.

In the first year programme, Kiljan taught form development and form grammar. Based on the lecture notes of one of his students, Nic Blans, Kiljan evidently discussed a wide array of subjects, ranging from topics that were more or less photography-related—such as ‘Photography can convey more than a precise outer appearance’—to matters of general formation, e.g. ‘There is no independent will, only strong tendencies to a lesser or greater degree.’ In the memory of another student, Rico Bulthuis, the lessons in form development were actually a substitute for art history. This latter term was officially omitted as a ‘terrible word (…) because this so-called art history is tendentious information founded on a shaky basis’. In this area, Kiljan revealed himself as a strong opponent of old notions in the areas of art and applied art. Such notions were still upheld by applied art associations such as the VANK (Nederlandsche Vereeniging voor Ambachts- en Nijverheidskunst, ‘Netherlands Association for Applied and Industrial Art’). It was this which compelled Kiljan to cancel his membership with the organisation in 1930: ‘Where I can no longer subscribe to the efforts in the applied arts, which is after all the goal of V.A.N.K., it seems undesirable to me to continue being a member of this Association, the moreso, when I am convinced that the action within the Association cannot lead to results that in my view should be designated as the goal of such an action: a total readjustment of insights based on a period that has become historical to such an extent that they agree with the current reality, which to me, when considering the general mentality of the V.A.N.K., appears to be a fruitless undertaking.’ It was this kind of protest that Kiljan was now practicing at the KABK in The Hague.

In his form development classes, Kiljan tried to teach his students how and why certain firms arose at various stages in history. He did so by introducing all sorts of objects and images. He made it clear to them that a sensible form is a necessary form, based on need, the available materials, technology, social relationships, and the creative capabilities of the designer. In this approach, one sees a connection with the basic assumptions put forth by the architects of New Objectivism. Within the frameworks of these lessons, visits were also made to showings of the Filmliga (‘Film League’), new architectural projects such as the Kiefhoek by the architect Oud, the Schröder house by Rietveld, the Van Nelle factory by Brinkman and Van der Vlugt, as well as lectures given by the architects Gropius, Van Loghem, and Van Tijen.

At the KABK, Kiljan was the theorist and the pedagogue, who instilled in his students a new attitude towards life rather than any specific knowledge of their field. The practical side of design was taught by Schuitema and Guermonprez, who were both much more active as designers and who gave their students ‘real’ assignments. At the time the study programme was first initiated, Kiljan and Schuitema were not that far ahead of their students in terms of the knowledge they possessed. In addition, the facilities were limited. In the early years, the lessons were characterised by the experimentation of the students and the teachers. In the eyes of the instructors, the most important factors with regards to the formation of the photographic image were the photographic tonal scales or gradation, and the mechanical objectivity determined by the camera. In Kiljan’s classes on theory, much attention was given to the sensitometry (including aspects such as determining the light sensitivity, contrast display, and establishing colour sensitivity) as well as the specific properties of light-sensitive materials. The idea that photography is objective—a notion that today sounds somewhat naive—as well served as the basis for how advertising was perceived as the correct, reliable product information that was, in this sense, in no way contradictory to his progressive ideals. The ethical aspects of the advertising field were discussed extensively in Kiljan’s classes.

For years, the KABK in The Hague was the only place in the Netherlands where photography was being taught as an independent study discipline. Piet Zwart failed in his attempt—from 1931 on—to introduce educational innovation at the ABK in Rotterdam. The same fate befell the photography department of the Nieuwe Kunstschool (‘New Art School’) in Amsterdam, founded by Paul Citroen in 1934, which never quite got off the ground. At the KABK, Kiljan and Schuitema trained a young generation of advertising designers and photographers, including Emmy Andriesse, Wim Brusse, Paul Hartland, Henny Cahn, Jan Kann, Carel Tirion, and Herman van de Horst (the only pupil from the evening programme that continued on in photography). The outbreak of the Second World War generally wiped out the advertising department. After the war, Kiljan primarily focussed his efforts once again on education. His untiring enthusiasm for new challenges was what led him to initiate the founding of a class in Industrial Design. By 1950, this new study discipline had become a fact, as well undermining Kiljan’s interest in photography. Notwithstanding, he continued to teach photography classes at the KABK up until his retirement in 1955.

Paul Schuitema was much more politically oriented than Kiljan, both in his speaking and writing. It was chiefly because of Schuitema’s explicit left-wing stance that ‘A6’ acquired the label of being communist, not only by members of its own circle, but especially by those outside it. Nevertheless, Kiljan was also bestowed the dubious honour of possessing ideas of an overly ‘red’ persuasion’. ‘These gentlemen are communists’, wrote a critic as early as 1928 following Schuitema’s lecture on behalf of the applied art association ‘Arti et Industriae’. At the request of several students, a meeting was organised in the advertising department itself in 1934, in order to address the problem of an alleged communist indoctrination. The surviving minutes from this meeting reveal that ideas espoused by Schuitema and Kiljan—concerning the cohesion of society, lifestyle, and (artistic) production—had stirred up consternation and intense resistance among some of the students. Other students, by contrast, took these ideas and transformed them into social engagement, even re-establishing their lives according to left-wing ideals. This group was referred to as ‘Schuitema’s red trash’ and the ‘maniacs of A6’: they lived in a communal house in Voorburg, belonged to or sympathised with the CPH (Communistische Partij Holland, ‘Communist Party of Holland’), and actively participated in anti-fascist artists’ organisations during the 1930s.

Because of his work as a teacher, Kiljan realised only a few advertising commissions. His most important assignments were from the PTT (the former Dutch national postal, telegraph, and telephone company). In 1931, he did the annual design for postage stamps (with a surcharge on behalf of children’s welfare), and in 1932, he designed a company folder—an instruction manual for a new telephone. He also received several commissions from architects and construction companies. For the ‘N.V. Aannemingsmaatschappij Van Eesteren’ (a contracting firm), he designed calendars, blotters and folders.

Kiljan is likely to have received the PTT commission to design the children’s postage stamps through Piet Zwart, who maintained close contact with the company’s secretary-general at the time, J.F. van Royen. Since 1922, Van Royen had been the chairman of the VANK and arranged government commissions for numerous artists. In March 1931, the Centrale Propaganda Commissie voor Weldadigheidszegels (‘Central Propaganda Committee for Charity Stamps’) proposed to place the image of Dutch architectural monuments on the new postage stamps. There was apparently substantial critique regarding recent designs. According to Van Royen’s notes, the explanation for this was ‘the fact that the general public is unwilling or incapable of acknowledge the merit of a drawing. These days, one has to show photos of reality—albeit well-composed—but without these objects being transformed by the artist’s interpretation (…) Zwart is someone who could achieve something like this.’

Piet Zwart had already demonstrated his capabilities in the area of postage stamp design, but it was Kiljan who received the assignment. Instead of ‘historical monuments’, another subject was proposed: institutions where underprivileged (‘misdeelde’) children were cared for, possibly with caregiving as the topic at hand. The committee agreed to the charity stamps. Unbeknownst to them, however, Kiljan’s focus was only on the children themselves, in line with his overall principles. The design had to be functional, i.e. when looking at the stamps, one had to be able to immediately understand what it was about: the underprivileged child. The photos had to convey each child’s deficiency as honestly and plainly as possible. Text was kept to a minimum, with only one alteration: ‘For the Child’ was turned into ‘For the Underprivileged Child’. Photos of a mentally disabled baby were not acceptable in his view, as there was no way to effectively communicate the disability. But he also rejected photos that he believed were too disturbing. Kiljan paid visits to various institutions, together with his assistant Tony Lievegoed: the institute for the deaf and blind in St. Michelsgestel, the home for the mentally disabled in Ermelo, and the institute for the blind in Huis ter Heide. A neglected child was photographed at the ‘children’s police’ in Rotterdam. Lievegoed established contact with the children and distracted them with 35mm shots, while Kiljan took shot glass plate negatives with a large format camera. The photos were then placed diagonally on the design surface, in a way that the children’s faces were accentuated by allowing them to fall outside the square frame. The stamps were printed with a rotogravure in a two-colour print that was highly remarkable at the time: red and ultramarine (the deaf child), blue-green and purple (the mentally disabled child), purple and blue-green (the blind child), and ultramarine and red (the neglected child). Finally, Kiljan also designed posters in different formats to promote the stamps, using the same photographs.

Not everyone responded positively to Kiljan’s postage stamp designs. The committee was dissatisfied, because Kiljan had failed to photograph any of the institutions. It was Van Royen who finally convinced them to go ahead and carry out the designs. The supervisory board of the Nederlandsche Bond tot Kinderbescherming (‘Netherlands Federation of Child Welfare’) protested against the ‘inappropriate’ images of children’s handicaps. Judging by the sales figures, there was no decline in sales with these stamps when compared to that of other years.

In 1932, Kiljan was commissioned to design an instruction manual for a telephone. This folder—according to an article that Kiljan wrote in collaboration with Paul Schuitema in 1933, entitled ‘foto als beeldend element in de reclame’ (‘Photo as a Visual Element in Advertising’)—was designed with objectivity and functionality in accordance with the spirit of the times: ‘The entire manipulation of the telephone and its capabilities are explained here in word and image. Nowhere are image and word included at whim, but with positioning, colour, and order precisely determined; any added thought or additional element introduced for beauty is absent, the crop of the photos is not based on ‘I like the picture best in this way’, but is confined by that accent requiring emphasis. What was necessary in the surroundings to ensure better lighting was kept in the photos (…) The photo-technical and print-technical applications in these examples are used as tools of suggestion: neither the photo nor the text was modified anywhere in a decorative or symbolic sense’.

Around 1930, Kiljan took several photos of the harbour of Rotterdam, the bridges over the Maas River, and the Coolsingel. Both in thematic and formal terms, these photos were influenced by films such as Joris Ivens’ De Brug (‘The Bridge’) of 1928 and D. Wertov’s De man met de camera (‘The Man with the Camera’), which was included in the programme of the Rotterdam film league of 1931. In 1931, Kiljan shot the documentary film Scheveningen, made together with several students of the KABK. Filmmaking was also to become a part of the academy’s study programme, but for financial reasons, these plans proceeded no further than a couple of experiments.

A film script in Kiljan’s archive suggests a possible collaboration with Schuitema for the film Maasbruggen. The details of such a project, however, are not known. In the mid-1930s, there was also an initiative to publish a Foto- en Filmtijdschrift (‘Photo and Film Magazine’), with Kiljan, Schuitema, Zwart, and the photographer Kolthoff acting as its editors. The magazine never came to fruition.

The magazine of the association Opbouw, entitled De 8 en Opbouw, gave Kiljan the opportunity to publish articles and photos: in 1932, he wrote an article— together with Schuitema—entitled ‘Reclame is een handelsaangelegenheid’ (‘Advertising is a Commercial Affair’), and in 1933, he criticised the designs for a poster competition hosted by De Vries Robbé en Co. Numerous progressive photographers were members of Opbouw. In 1936, Nico de Haas published his renowned ‘5 punten voor de Nieuwe Fotografie’ (‘5 points for the New Photography’) in the association’s magazine, with which all of the Opbouw photographers were in accordance. Point 5 illustrates a shift in the attitude towards photography: ‘The N.F. [New Photography] is aware of the responsible social function of the photographic image, especially as a documentary factor in the system of public information and propaganda.’ During the 1930s, photography’s accent went from photographing objectivist subjects to photographing people and their living conditions. This manifested itself as early as 1931 in the establishing of associations for worker photographers, but was also later observed in the development of a number of students at the academy. In young designers’ circles, criticism was formulated in response to what they viewed as the dogmatic design principles of Zwart, Schuitema, and Kiljan. This was also expressed in an article written by Dick Elffers, a former assistant to Schuitema and Zwart, which appeared in the catalogue of the exhibition Foto ’37, held at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and again two years later in the magazine De 8 en Opbouw. In short, Elffers accuses the older generation of placing uninspiring limitations on technique and composition (photography and synthetic drawing), and even of too readily adhering to the status quo.

This criticism certainly serves in part to explain why Kiljan was neither involved nor his work represented at the Foto ’37 exhibition. The critique of the past generation’s work that Elffers formulated had in fact already been predicted by Kiljan as early as 1935 in his article ‘Vorm en Reclame’ (‘Form and Advertising’) written for the magazine Binnenhuis (‘Home Interior’). In this piece, he alluded to the danger of lethargy in the photography of New Objectivism: ‘How many of us have not immediately turned the ‘new objectivity’ into a limiting principle. And how few understand it in its most general and abstract sense? Does not the name ‘new objectivity’ in itself already affirm the desire to be anchored to a principle? In this way, the dependency on the so-called New Objectivism and its formal appearance has no value. This dependency only has value, if, when necessary, we can introduce change without debate in its theoretical and practical aspects tomorrow, and again the day after, and so on. That is evolution.’ Kiljan’s photographic activity during these years also shows that he was open to new accents. In 1936–’37, Kiljan produced a photo reportage—together with Piet Zwart, W. van Gelderen, and Dick Elffers—on the manner ‘in which the inhabitants of Rotterdam recreate, both within and outside the urban complex’. The client for this commission was Opbouw, which wanted to use the photos in order to better understand urban recreation. This series of remarkable photos reflects the increased orientation towards people in the photography being promoted by the new generation.

Kiljan’s most significant qualities and contributions were in the pedagogical and didactic fields. It is primarily through his efforts that photography became a full-fledged component of the educational programme at the KABK in The Hague. His open approach to design and his ideas concerning the correlation between technical possibilities and artistic production, and between the productive individual and his duty to society, were a source of inspiration for generations of students who attended the academy. Kiljan’s relatively modest photographic production is an important and authentic example of the early practices of New Photography in the Netherlands.


Primary bibliography

G. Kiljan en Paul Schuitema, Reclame is een handels-aangelegenheid!, in De 8 en Opbouw 3(14 april 1932) 8, p. 78-80.

Prijsvraagmisère De Vries Robbé & Co, in De 8 en Opbouw 4 (1933), p. 181-183.

G. Kiljan, Paul Schuitema (en Piet Zwart), Foto als beeldend element in de reclame, in De Reclame november 1933, p. 429-438.

Vorm en reclame, in Binnenhuis 17 (1935), p. 246-247.

Catalogus 1935 van de firma Wijnbeek en Zonen, in De 8 en Opbouw 6 (1935), p. 104.

Kalender n.v. aanneming mij. J.P. van Eesteren, Rotterdam 1938.

Kalender n.v. aanneming mij. J.P. van Eesteren, Rotterdam 1939.

Timbres-poste de bienfaisance, in Les timbres-poste des Pays-Bas de 1929 a 1939, Den Haag (PTT) 1939.

Kiljan e.a., Nog meer discussie over het Grafisch-Nummer, in De 8 en Opbouw 10 (1939), p. 160.


images in:

Machiel Wilmink, Reclame-typografie, in De Reclame januari 1927, p. 36.

P. (= Piet Zwart), Fotovisie, in Wereldkroniek (20 december 1930) 1915, p. 1062.

Modern Photography 1931, (The special autumn number of „The Studio”), p. 29.

W.F. Gouwe, Vorm. Jaarboek van Nederlandsche Ambachts- en Nijverheidskunst 1931, p. 6.

Focus 19 (10 december 1932) 25, p. 743.

De 8 en Opbouw 8 (1937), p. 17.

Bedrijfsfotografie 19 (20 augustus 1937) 17, p.316.

De 8 en Opbouw 9 (1938), p. 86.

De 8 en Opbouw 9 (1938), p. 203-205.

De 8 en Opbouw 10 (1939), p. 161, 165-166, 168-169, 171-173.

Secondary bibliography

Auteur onbekend, De kunst van het verleden en de kunst der toekomst, in Het Vaderland 25 februari 1929, (idem in: Schoonheid en Opvoeding 23 (maart 1929) 2, p. 17-23).

W.F. Gouwe, Werk. Jaarboek van Nederlandsche Ambachts- en Nijverheidskunst 1930, p. 127, 130-131, 137 (met afb.).

Auteur onbekend, Rotterdamsche kring. Werk van G. Kiljan, Paul Schuitema en Piet Zwart, in Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad 8 april 1931.

Auteur onbekend, Tentoonstelling fotomontages en reclame-ontwerpen, in Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant 23 juni 1931.

Jan D. Voskuil, Internationaal reclamedrukwerk, fotos en fotomontages, in De Groene Amsterdammer (4 juli 1931) 2822, p. 9.

A.B, (= Adriaan Boer), Moderne foto’s en drukwerken te Utrecht, in Bedrijfsfotografie 13 (13 november 1931) 33, p. 424-426.

Jan Tschichold, Die ersten zeitgemässen Briefmarken, in Grafische Berufsschule (1931-1932) 4, p.40.

Auteur onbekend, Nederlandsche tentoonstelling te Moskou, in Nieuw-Rusland. (Orgaan van het Genootschap Nederland-Nieuw Rusland) juni 1932, p. 82-83.

A.B. ( = Adriaan Boer), Internationale fototentoonstelling te Leiden en Rotterdam, in Focus 19 (10 december 1932) 25, p. 731-733.

H. Scholte, Nederlandsche filmkunst, Rotterdam (Brusse) 1933, p.52.

B. Modderman, Tien jaar kinderzegels, in De Reclame februari 1933, p. 67-71.

Dick Elffers, Ontwerpers en de fotografie, in Catalogus tent. foto’37, Prisma der Kunsten 1937 (speciaal nummer), p. 108-110.

Auteur onbekend, Bij de platen, in Bedrijfsfotografie 19 (20 augustus 1937) 17, p. 305-306.

Piet Zwart, Gereinigde fotografie, in Catalogus tent. Foto ’48, Kroniek voor Kunst en Kuituur 1948 (speciale editie), p. 4-8.

W.F. Gouwe, Het ontwerpen van postzegels 1852-1952, Den Haag (PTT) 1953, p. 50.

Auteur onbekend, G. Kiljan, in De Groene Amsterdammer 8 maart 1956.

Rico Bulthuis, Reclame-avantgarde, in Ariadne 13 (juli/augustus 1958) 7/8, p. 355, 357.

Auteur onbekend, Drie industriële ontwerpers Kiljan, Truyen, Gilles praten over hun vak, in Nederlands Fabricaat januari 1961, p. 14-15.

Christiaan de Moor, 40 X toeslag, Den Haag (Staatsbedrijf der Posterijen, Telegrafie en Telefonie) 1967, p. 34-35 (met afb.).

Auteur onbekend, Grafisch vormgever G. Kiljan gecremeerd, in Haagsche Courant 26 november 1968.

Pieter A. Scheen, Lexicon Nederlandse beeldende kunstenaars 1750-1950, Den Haag (Pieter A. Scheen N.V.) 1969, p. 597.

P.H. Hefting, Postzegel-kunst?, in Museumjournaal serie 15, (november 1970) 5, p. 244-251.

Catalogus tent. Bouwen ’20-’40. De Nederlandse bijdragen aan het Nieuwe Bouwen, Eindhoven (Van Abbemuseum) 1971.

K. Broos, Piet Zwart, Den Haag (Haags Gemeentemuseum) 1973 (catalogus), (herdruk: K. Broos, Piet Zwart 1885-1977, Amsterdam (Van Gennep) 1982).

Flip Bool, Paul Schuitema (1897-1973) een poging’ tot ordening van zijn werk voor de Tweede Wereldoorlog, Amsterdam 1974 (ongepubliceerde doctoraalscriptie).

Flip Bool (red.), De bevrijde camera, Vrij Nederland-Bijvoegsel 37 (15 mei 1976) 20, p.4-6, 10, 13-15, 22, 23.

Els Barents (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1940-1975, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978, p. 4, 7, 16-17.

Ute Eskildsen en Jan-Christopher Horak (samenstelling), Film und Foto der zwanziger Jahre. Eine Betrachtung der Internationalen Werkbundausstellung „Film und Foto” 1929, Stuttgart (Württembergischer Kunstverein) 1979 (met afb.).

Flip Bool en Kees Broos (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1920-1940, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1979, p. 21, 28, 30, 34, 36-43, 49, 53, 57, 58, 60, 66-69, 71-73, 80, 81, 87, 89, 133, 134, 141, 142, 152 (met afb.), bibliografie.

Lily van Ginneken, Fotografie-boek vult leegte. Expositie in Den Haag, in De Volkskrant 5 januari 1980.

Flip Bool en Jeroen de Vries (red.), De arbeidersfotografen. Camera en crisis in de jaren ’30, Amsterdam (Van Gennep/Pegasus) 1982.

Catalogus tent. De Maniakken. Ontstaan en ontwikkeling van de grafische vormgeving aan de Haagse akademie in de jaren dertig, Den Haag (Rijksmuseum Meermanno-Westreenianum) 1982.

Marius Wagner, De Maniakken, in Pulchri 10 (1982) 5, p. 19-21.

Kees Broos, De grillige driehoek, in Foto in vorm, Grafisch Nederland 1984, Amsterdam (Koninklijk Verbond van Grafische Ondernemingen) 1984, p. 5-15.

Paul Hefting, Het paradijs binnen ieders bereik, in Foto in vorm, Grafisch Nederland 1984, Amsterdam (Koninklijk Verbond van Grafische Ondernemingen) 1984, p. 68-79.

Tineke de Ruiter en Hripsimé Visser, Carel Tirion, in Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse fotografie, Alphen aan den Rijn (Samsom) afl. 1, 1984.

Hripsimé Visser, Emmy Andriesse, in Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse fotografie, Alphen aan den Rijn (Samsom) afl. 2, 1985.

Tineke de Ruiter, Eva Besnyö, in Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse fotografie, Alphen aan den Rijn (Samsom) afl. 5, 1986.

Hripsimé Visser, Steef Zoetmulder, in Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse fotografie, Alphen aan den Rijn (Samsom) afl. 5, 1986.

Eric van ‘t Groenewout en Tineke de Ruiter, Mark Kolthoff, in Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse fotografie, Alphen aan den Rijn (Samsom) afl. 6, 1987.

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf, Spiegelreflecties in de fotografie, in Nico J. Brederoo e.a. (samenstelling), Oog in oog met de spiegel, Amsterdam (Aramith) 1988, p. 173.

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf, Nederlandse fotoliteratuur: essays en bronnen. Inleiding, in Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse fotografie, Alphen aan den Rijn (Samsom) afl. 8, 1988.


VANK, tot 18 juni 1930.

Opbouw, vanaf 1928.


1929 (g) Stuttgart, Ausstellungshallen Interimtheaterplatz, Film und Foto (Fifo) (rondreizende tentoonstelling).

1930 (g) München, Bavaria-park, Das Lichtbild.

1931 (g) Rotterdam, Rotterdamsche Kring, Foto, fotomontage, fotoreclame.

1931 (g) Essen, Ausstellungshallen, Kunst der Werbung.

1931 (g) Arnhem, Artibus Sacrus, Foto’s uit de Sowjetunie (ook foto’s van Zwart, Schuitema en Kiljan).

1931 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Internationaal reclamedrukwerk, foto’s en fotomontages.

1931 (g) Utrecht, Genootschap voor de Kunst (Nobelstraat), (moderne foto’s en drukwerken).

1932 (g) Leiden, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, (internationale fototentoonstelling).

1932 (g) Rotterdam, Kunstzaal Van Hasselt, (internationale fototentoonstelling).

1932 (g) Moskou, Museum van Moderne Westerse Kunst, (Nederlandse hedendaagse kunst).

1934 (g) Rotterdam, Studio ’32, (Opbouw).

1935 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Reclamekunst.

1936 (g) Praag, Spolek Vytvarnych Umelcu „Manes”, Mezindrodni Vystava Fotografie.

1978 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Fotografie in Nederland 1940-1975.

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

1982 (g) Den Haag, Rijksmuseum Meermanno-Westreenianum, De Maniakken. Ontstaan en ontwikkeling van de grafische vormgeving aan de Haagse akademie in de jaren dertig.


1931 Scheveningen


Leiden, A. de Jongh-Vermeulen (ongepubliceerd werkstuk: Aantekeningen bij het fotoarchief van G. Kiljan in het Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit te Leiden, Leiden, juli 1980).

Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.


Den Haag, Haags Gemeentemuseum.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet der Rijksuniversiteit.