PhotoLexicon, Volume 7, nr. 14 (September 1990) (en)

Maria Hille

Robbert van Venetië

Annet Zondervan


Maria Hille’s name is associated with a relatively small, but important oeuvre dating back to the early years of Dutch photography. Initially in collaboration with her husband, Claus Pruter, Hille managed a business primarily specialised in cityscapes and architectural photography.




Maria Elisabeth Hille is born on 3 July 1827 in Rhanderfehn (Hanover), Germany.


In the spring of this year, Hille registers with the city of Groningen as the wife of the photographer Claus Pruter (born 20 April 1823 in Wevelsfleth, Holstein, Germany–death 27 January 1863, The Hague). Pruter—originating from Embden, Germany—had previously established himself as a portrait painter in Groningen on 6 December 1852. In 1853, however, he opens a photography studio on the Hereweg. On 15 October of the same year, the couple’s first and only child is born: Catherina Gerardina Margaretha Pruter.


The Pruter family officially registers at the Groningen civil registry on 26 December. Hille’s birthplace—Rhanderfehn, Germany—is now listed as her birthplace.


On 28 July, the Pruter family moves to Amsterdam. The ‘Nieuw Duitsch Photographisch Etablissement van C. & M. Pruter’ (‘New German Photographic Establishment of C. & M. Pruter’) is located at the address Nieuwendijk 41.


Hille and Pruter leave Amsterdam and move to The Hague, where on 22 October, they advertise their studio for the first time under the name ‘M. Hille and Comp.’ (‘M. Hill and Partner’), located at Buitenhof K 104, near the Gevangenpoort.


Studio Hille relocates to Willemstraat 12 in The Hague.


Wilhelm J. Grammann (Amelsdorf 12 April 1844 – ?), who originates from Amelsdorf, Germany, arrives in The Hague. In May, he is hired as an assistant at Hille’s studio.


Claus Pruter dies on 27 January.


Maria Hille moves to Denneweg 69, where she establishes herself as a photographer. Hille is listed as a photographer at this address in The Hague city address books until 1881. Starting in 1868, Petrus Bernardus Beukers—’civil servant in the colonies’—is registered at the same address as Hille.

In an advertisement, W. Grammann announces he is opening his own photography studio at Willemstraat 12 starting on 10 May.


Circa 1877, Grammann leaves The Hague and departs for an unknown destination. In the 1870s, the company ‘J.C.J. Beukers, firma M. Hille’ is located at the address Willemstraat 12. J.C.J. Beukers is listed as a photographer in the civil registry. (Johannes Carel Jacobus Beukers was born on 20 May 1856, and was the son of the aforementioned Petrus Bernardus Beukers and Anna Catharina Becht).


Maria Hille resides at successive addresses in The Hague: Frederikstraat 16 (in 1881), Veenlaan 64 (in 1884), Toussaintkade 64 (in 1887) and Jacob van der Doesstraat 3 (in 1891). All of these addresses are found on Hille’s carte-de-visite portraits. P.B. Beukers moves with Hille to each of these addresses. Beukers’ son, J.C.J. Beukers, is also registered at the last two addresses, though he still runs his own business on the Willemstraat.


Maria Hille moves to Piet Heinstraat 23, her last known address. After 1893, her name is no longer found in the civil registers of The Hague. It is not known whether she died in this year (i.e. at the age of sixty-five) or whether she left The Hague to live elsewhere.


When Maria Elisabeth Hille arrived in the Netherlands from Germany, her name was added to the civil registry of Groningen as the wife of Claus Pruter. Pruter had come to Groningen from the German city of Embden in December of 1852. He was initially known as a painter. During several trips made in the years 1852-’53, Pruter studied to become a daguerreotypist and learned how to produce photographs on paper. Maria Hille is likely to have met her husband during a trip to Hamburg. They may possibly have met each other during Pruter’s visit to the Hamburg studio of the photographer H. Hille, who was probably a member of Maria’s family.

When Pruter himself registered with the city of Groningen for a second time, he listed himself as being married and a daguerreotypist by profession. His wife, Maria Elisabeth Hille, was cited as having no profession. The photography business was registered under Pruter’s name. In July 1856, the Pruter family moved to Amsterdam. Their stay in the city was relatively brief: approximately one year later, Claus and Maria moved to The Hague. Only one photo is known to have survived from the couple’s time in Amsterdam. It concerns a shot of the unveiling of a statue of Laurens Janszoon Coster on the Grote Markt (main market square) in Haarlem, which took place on 16 July 1856, just twelve days prior to the official date that the Pruters moved to Amsterdam. The printed caption beneath the photo provides information regarding its subject, but also states the name of the company that shot the image: the ‘Nieuw Duitsch Photographisch Etablissement van C. & M. Pruter’ (‘New German Photographic Establishment of C. & M. Pruter’). The firm was therefore operating under the names of both the husband and the wife. By the time the Pruters’ first advertisement appeared in The Hague in October 1857, the name change was complete: ‘M. Hille en Comp. van Hamburg’ (‘M. Hille and Partner of Hamburg’). Despite the fact that the civil registries of Groningen, Amsterdam, and The Hague list no profession for Maria Hille (contrary to her husband), she too was a practicing photographer. Hille signed the photos and maintained—albeit applying the masculine grammatical form—correspondence with clients.

The gradual changes made to the name of Claus Pruter and Maria Hille’s family business may perhaps have been motivated by considerations of a commercial nature as well as other practical concerns. During the couple’s time in Groningen— when the company was in Pruter’s name only—Claus was known as a painter, while Maria cared for her child in the aftermath of her pregnancy. This may perhaps explain why Hille’s name is in in no way associated with the business until the couple’s arrival in Amsterdam, thus providing an indication of the active role she played. That the company ultimately bore Hille’s name alone might be explained by the fact that the couple wished to benefit from the reputation of the name ‘Hille’, which had already gained a degree of notoriety, most certainly in The Hague. In March and August of 1857, the traveling exhibition ‘Nieuw Groot Cosmoramisch Stereoscopisch Kabinet van H. Hille en Comp. van Hamburg’ (‘New Large Cosmoramic Stereoscopic Cabinet of H. Hille and Partner of Hamburg’) had visited the city. Due to the success of this exhibition, ‘Hille’ had become an established name in The Hague. The similar form of ‘M. Hille en Comp. van Hamburg’ (‘M. Hille and Partner of Hamburg’) as stated in the advertisement of October 1857 cited above is remarkable, as it further reinforces the likelihood that said ‘partner’ was a family member. According to an advertisement in the Dagblad voor Zuid- Holland en ‘s Gravenhage (‘Newspaper of South Holland and The Hague’) on 22 June 1861, Pruter’s health was poor during the days they spent in The Hague. He eventually died in early 1863. Maria Hille remained active at various addresses in The Hague well into the 1890s. Business associates were photographers such as Wilhelm Grammann, who established himself as an independent photographer in The Hague after having worked as an assistant for Hille in the years 1862 to 1868, and Johannes Beukers, who ran a branch office of Hille’s business starting in 1877, as well located in The Hague.

Maria Hille is certain to have operated a successful portrait studio. A majority of the surviving portrait photos are in the carte-de-visite format. These are virtually indistinguishable from portraits produced by other studios at the time. Hille’s oeuvre holds an important place in the history of Dutch photography for other reasons.

To our knowledge, the earliest known album of architectural photos to be commissioned in the Netherlands can be attributed to Maria Hille. It concerns an album made in the city of Leiden, presented on 30 July 1858 by the city council to H.R.H. the Prince of Orange upon the completion of his studies at Leiden University. It comprises eight shots of cityscapes and architectural landmarks, such as the civic weighing house, the city hall, the Academy Building, and the Hooglandse Church. How the collaboration between Hille and the city council of Leiden arose is not known. What is known is how much it cost: Dfl. 825.50. Of this amount, Hille received Dfl. 80.- for taking the photos, the silversmith and the text writer Dfl. 710.50 and Dfl. 25, respectively. While it is remarkable that the Leiden city council decided in favour of a relatively new medium for such a prestigious gift, this regard for photography was apparently not yet reflected in the financial compensation for the photographer’s services.

Hille also shot photos of The Hague, the city where she lived, which were included in several albums with cityscapes. La Haye et Scheveningue Photographies (‘The Hague and Scheveningen Photographs’) appeared in 1860, consisting of sixteen lithographs of cityscapes published by H.L. van Hoogstraten. Hoogstraaten also produced lithographs based on drawings that C.C.A. Last had made from Hille’s photos. In the same year, the Photographisch Album van ‘s Gravenhage en Scheveningen (‘Photographic Album of The Hague and Scheveningen’) was published in The Hague, featuring pasted-in prints by Hille herself. The album included ’12 Gezigten’ (’12 Views’) shot in the most scenic locations. The publisher this time was M.M. Couvée.

Although the photos in these three albums can be described as cityscapes, Hille shows a clear preference for the individual building as her subject. It therefore comes as no surprise that Hille submitted her ‘cityscapes’ of both The Hague and Leiden to the ‘Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Bouwkunst’ (‘Society for the Promotion of Architecture’) in an attempt to obtain a commission in the area of architectural photography from this organisation. On 3 August 1858, Hille wrote a letter to the society. The inspiration for her letter was a newspaper article concerning a publication of this architectural association, entitled Afbeeldingen van Oude bestaande gebouwen in Nederland (‘Images of Old Existing Buildings in the Netherlands’), a periodical that had been published since 1852. An excerpt from Hille’s letter reads as follows: ‘In the newspaper of The Hague and South Holland, I have read that the Society of Architecture here is going to have pictures produced of Historic buildings in the Netherlands. Should you decide to do this by printing Photography, than I am taking the liberty to offer myself in your favour, as I, depending on the quantity of prints, can supply these at the most civil of prices. I have also taken the liberty to send you several examples for viewing, which I have already produced in the past; and because I have now obtained entirely new equipment, the Photographs that I am now producing will be larger and more perfect.’ It was not long before Hille indeed succeeded in receiving the society’s commission for a photo to be taken of the late-Gothic city hall of Middelburg for the aforementioned loose-leaf periodical. The frontal shot that Hille took was included in the fourth issue of 1859. Because there was not yet a printing process that facilitated the combination of a photo and text, 800 albumen prints were mounted onto cardboard on which the caption stood. Hille’s photo of the Middelburg city hall is the earliest architectural photo ever published in a Dutch architecture periodical. In the society’s editorial archive—today preserved at the NIAS (Nederlands Instituut voor Architectuur en Stedebouw, ‘Netherlands Institute for Architecture and City Planning’)—Hille’s correspondence with respect to commission has been preserved in its entirety.

In addition to portraits, architectural shots make up an important part of Maria Hille’s oeuvre (as it is known at this time), including cityscapes and photos of individual buildings. Especially in the period 1857 to 1861, Hille took a number of interesting shots in this genre. With most of her cityscapes, the compositions are concentrated around a single building. The cityscapes of Johan Herman Bückmann, a contemporary of Hille’s also working in The Hague, were generally representations of a totality of smaller buildings lining canals and streets. Hille, by contrast, often produced ‘portraits’ of buildings. It is perhaps for this reason that she managed to successfully acquire a commission from a client in architectural circles. Alexandrine Tinne is another fellow photographer and a contemporary of Hille’s working in The Hague who calls for comparison. Both were women photographers working in the same geographical area, approximately at the same time. A number of their photos highly resemble each other, e.g. the shots of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (‘Royal Library’) on the Lange Voorhout. When comparing the photos of Tinne, who was an amateur photographer, with those of her professional colleague Hille, it is the large format of the prints that one first notices. In her correspondence with her client regarding the aforementioned photo of the Middelburg city hall, Hille stated that she has purchased new equipment for larger formats in 1858. Yet her photos of The Hague taken in 1860 are much smaller than those of Tinne. It also seems as if Tinne took (or had) more time to wait for better lighting conditions. Hille’s compositions typically show high, often diagonal camera angles.

Hille’s cityscapes of The Hague and the shot from Middelburg are printed on albumen paper. The paper used for her cityscapes in the album for Leiden—Hille’s earliest known photos—is less easy to determine, as these prints are covered with a layer of varnish, perhaps in order to prevent fading.

Hille’s letters to the Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Bouwkunst also provide several insights into the level of photographic technique at the time. She stated, for instance, that her client was to choose four out of the seven shots for which she had sent proof prints. This was necessary ‘because one cannot make more than 200 good prints from each one’, as she stated in one of her letters to the client. Apparently the glass plate negatives were too vulnerable for printing an unlimited quantity. Moreover, one could work more quickly with four negatives. Hille therefore produced a number of virtually identical shots, shot rapidly in succession, with a large edition in mind. When one compares different copies of the same issue of Oude Bestaande Gebouwen, minor differences can indeed be seen, in addition to small flecks and tonal variations found in the prints: a door stands open in one photo, in another it is closed; a pushcart in front of a building featured in one photo is missing from another. Hille followed this same working procedure with several cityscapes of The Hague—here too probably for a large edition. Small variations can also be observed, for instance, in a photo of the Groenmarkt (‘Green Market’) in The Hague (which was not included in either of the two Hague albums). The differences are found in the way the light falls and the groups of people gathering around the market stalls.

Extant work by Maria Hille spans a period of more than thirty years. Although she was also active as a portrait photographer, the significance of her oeuvre is primarily based on her cityscapes dating from the period 1856 to 1861. Together with her surviving correspondence and other archive material, Hille’s oeuvre provides insight into the working method of one of the earliest woman professional photographers in the Netherlands, as well as the development of architectural photography as a specialised field.


Primary bibliography

Advertenties in Dagblad voor Zuid-Holland en ‘s Gravenhage:

(22 oktober 1857) 249, p. 4.

(4 augustus 1858) 181, p. 2.

(14 mei 1859) 113, p. 4.

(22 juni 1861) 143, p. 3.

(23 januari 1864) 19, p. 4.

(27 juli 1865) 175, p. 2.

(5 december 1867) 287, p.4.

(6 december 1867) 288, p. 3.

(28 april 1868) 101, p.4.

(29 april 1868) 102, p.4.

(30 november 1868) 284, bijblad p. 1.

(30 januari 1869) 16, p.4.


images in:

Album aan Z.K. Hoogheid den Prins van Oranje ter herinnering aan Hoogst Deszelfs Vierjarig Verblijf Binnen Leijden door den Gemeenteraad eerbiedig aangeboden den 30 july 1858 (album met 8 fotoafdrukken van M.Hille).

Afbeeldingen van Oude bestaande gebouwen in Nederland (1859) 4.

La Haye et Scheveningue Photographies (album met 16 lithografieën naar foto’s van M. Hille), ‘s-Gravenhage (H.L.van Hoogstraaten) 1860.

Photographisch Album van ’s Gravenhage en Scheveningen, bevattende 12 gezigten, op de schoonste punten genomen (album met 13 albuminedrukken van M. Hille), ‘s-Gravenhage (M.M. Gouvée) 1860.

LJ. van der Haer, ‘s-Gravenhage gephotographeerd tusschen de jaren 1860-1870, Delft (Elmar N.V.) 1968, p. 14, 22.

Kees Nieuwenhuijzen (samenstelling), Den Haag en omstreken in 19de-eeuwse foto’s, Amsterdam (Van Gennep) 1975, p. 16.

Jan Coppens (samenstelling), Een camera vol stilte. Nederland in het begin van de fotografie 1839-1875, Amsterdam (Meulenhoff) 1976, afb. 72.

Secondary bibliography

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. 60-62, 78, 83-84, 103.

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1839-1920, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978, p. 23, 33, 35, 97, 104.

A.M. van den Broek, Een foto door Prater van de onthulling van het standbeeld van Laurens Janszoon Koster in 1856, in Haerlem Jaarboek 1985, p. 37-47.

Mattie Boom, ‘Een waarlijk volkomen begoocheling’. Stereofotografie in Nederland, in Jong Holland 2 (oktober 1986) 3, p.6-7.

Robbert van Venetië en Annet Zondervan, Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse architectuurfotografie, Rotterdam (Uitgeverij 010) 1989, p. 5-8, 12, 37-39, 136 (met foto’s).

Jan Coppens, Laurent Roosens en Karel van Deuren, „.. .door de enkele werking van het licht…”. Introductie en integratie van de fotografie in België en Nederland, 1839-1869, Antwerpen (Gemeentekrediet) 1989, p. 76, 211, 229, 238-239.

A.T. Schuitema Meijer, Fotografen in het 19 e eeuwse Groningen, in Groningse Volksalmanak 1961, p. 125-152.

A.T. Schuitema Meijer, Zó fotografeerden zij Groningen 1868-1918, Groningen (N.V. Dijkstra’a Drukkerij) 1966.


1989 (g) Rotterdam, Tentoonstellingsruimte Oude Binnenweg 113, Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse architectuurfotografie.


Den Haag, Gemeentearchief.

Groningen, Gemeentearchief.

Leiden, Gemeentearchief.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.

Rotterdam, Nederlands Instituut voor Architectuur en Stedebouw.

Sassenheim/Leiden, Robbert van Venetië en Annet Zondervan (ongepubliceerde doctoraalscriptie: Architectuurfotografie in Nederland: 1839-1900. Een bronnenonderzoek naar functie en vorm binnen de negentiende-eeuwse documentaire fotografie, april 1989).


Den Haag, Gemeentearchief.

Den Haag, Gemeentemuseum (muziekafdeling).

Den Haag, Koninklijk Huisarchief (Collectie H.M. de Koningin der Nederlanden)

Den Haag, Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit Leiden.

Rotterdam, Nederlands Instituut voor Architectuur en Stedebouw.