Portrait photographs and family albums


The RKD has a large collection of original portrait photographs from the period 1840-1920, including a unique collection of cartes de visite and splendid family albums. Because the sitters are known by name, these photographs can serve as reference material for painted portraits.

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Large collection of portraits

The extensive collection of portraiture is the legacy of the former Iconografisch Bureau, which has been absorbed by the RKD. One part of the collection consists of about 40,000 portrait photographs of ‘ordinary’ Dutch people from the period 1840-1920. Of these the large part are cartes de visite: portrait photographs printed onto cards measuring c. 10.5 x 6.5 cm. From about 1860 onwards, well-to-do people could have themselves photographed at this format. The cartes de visite were produced in sets of six or twelve, to be shared with family, friends and acquaintances. Less well-off people might make an appearance in a portrait photograph as a ‘background figure’, for example as member of a household.

1. Woodbury & Page, Portrait of an unknown man with Jacobus van Hoboken, 1889, from Kolff Photograph album IV, collection RKD
2. Gevers Photograph album VI, 1885-1915, collection RKD

Photograph albums

In the nineteenth century people made a huge effort to collect cartes de visite. The little portraits could be stored in specially designed albums, and these were used as a talking point during the visits that relatively affluent people customarily made. Photo albums were assembled for a variety of special occasions and presented as gifts. A fine example if the beautifully produced album that was assembled for the occasion of the silver wedding anniversary of C.M.F. Kolff and E.J. van Stolk in 1887. It is just one of the special examples in the collection of the RKD, like the album from ‘the circle of Queen Sophie’. The RKD still regularly receives albums and separate portrait photographs. A selection of photograph albums is currently on show in the RKD’s jubilee exhibition.

1. Photo album Kolff IV, front cover, 1887, collection RKD
2. Photo album Kolff IV, two pages, 1887, collection RKD