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Willem Arnoldus Witsen collection

Identifier: ubl281

Scope and Contents

Collection of 654 negatives (glass and nitrate, size 9 x 12, 13 x 18 en 18 x 24 cm), 6 albums with contact prints of the negatives and 104 transparencies. Like George H. Breitner, Witsen is counted among the Amsterdam impressionists. Witsen is particularly known for the portraits he did of other members of this group of artists of the '80s. He depicted his friends posing informally, showing diverse emotions and moods. In learning photography he relied heavily on the Gids voor den Amateur-Fotograaf, which appeared in 1890, written by the photographer and fellow artist of the '80s Joseph Jessurun de Mesquita. In his photographs Witsen reflected the interest in experimentation in the day, trying out double exposed prints, allowing one element of the picture to cut across another, selective focus and double portraits done with a mirror.


  • Creation: 1891-1908, 1921-1923
  • Creation: Bulk 1891–1908

Conditions Governing Use

Regulations that apply during the use of these materials can be found on the website of Leiden University Library. The negatives, contact albums and transparencies are only available with special permission of the curator.

Biographical / Historical

Willem Witsen was born in Amsterdam. He was trained as a visual artist at the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam from 1876 through 1884. He became a painter and graphic artist, and an enthusiastic and talented amateur photographer as well. Beside a nine-years stay in Ede (1893-1902) - where he lived with his first wife Betsy van Vloten and got three sons who appear often in his photographs - and a nine-months stay in the former Dutch Indies in 1920-1921, he spent most of his life in Amsterdam. Witsen belonged to the group of Dutch writers, poets, musicians and painters who rose to prominence in the 1880s and were called the Eighties movement ('Tachtigers' in Dutch). Although he also photographed members of his family, children as they grew up, Amsterdam cityscapes and the cities and landscapes he encountered on his trips around Europe. In 1915, he took care of the design of the Dutch art section of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco.


654 negatives, 6 albums with contact prints of the negatives and 104 transparencies

Language of Materials


Abstract in Dutch

Collectie van honderden negatieven, albums met contactafdrukken van de negatieven en dia’s van de Nederlandse schilder Willem Witsen (1860-1923). Het merendeel bestaat uit portretten van zijn naasten en vrienden en opnamen die hij in zijn dagelijkse omgeving maakte.

Abstract in English

Collection of hundreds of negatives and black-and-white transparencies and six albums with contact prints of the negatives, made by the Dutch painter Willem Witsen (1860-1923). The majority exists of portraits of next-of-kin and friends and photographs he made in his daily environment.

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

Only a few items have been described in the online catalogue.

Custodial History

Willem Witsen’s second wife, Augusta Maria Witsen-Schorr (1974-1943) bequeathed Witsen’s house and its entire moveables to the Dutch State in 1953.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gifts, mediated by the state inspector for moveable heritage ('Rijksinspecteur voor roerende monumenten'), of the Witsenhuis, Amsterdam, in 1964 and from Willem Witsen’s son Erik Witsen in 1968. In 2002 the collections of the Print Room moved to the Special Collections of Leiden University Library.


No future additions are to be expected.

Related Materials

8 drawings by Willem Witsen are part of the Print Room’s drawing collection, with shelfmark starting with PK-T-. One photograph, PK-F-59.460, is a modern print made from an original negative.

Separated Materials

The Witsenhuis in Amsterdam has duplicates of the originals in this Collection Witsen in its collection. The collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam contains 81 photographs by Witsen.


  • Amade, P. Geschiedenis van de fotografie in monografieën en thema-artikelen 5 (maart 1988) 8.


The materials can be requested in the catalogue and can be consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room (for the uncatalogued material use the tab Special Collections, Request uncatalogues material). Please note that photographs and photography albums have to be requested for viewing at least 24 hours in advance. See also Restrictions on use.

Processing Information

The negatives, contact albums and transparencies have a callnumber starting with PK-F-E.

Collection guide of the Willem Arnoldus Witsen collection (1891-1908, 1921-1923)
Collectie Willem Arnoldus Witsen
Maartje van den Heuvel, 2018
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Beschrijving is in het English.

Revision Statements

  • 7 February 2020: latest update

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857