Born in the Netherlands village of Heemskerk on December 8, 1813, virtually nothing is known about the life of Nicolaas Henneman, until he was hired as a member of inventor William Henry Fox Talbot’s domestic staff shortly after relocating to England in 1838. He quickly progressed to his master’s valet, and finally his most trusted darkroom assistant. Mr. Henneman was an eager student, and was soon collaborating with Mr. Talbot on a wide range of photographic experiments. He became an expert in the intricate calotype process that required both advanced chemistry knowledge and technical precision, but most of all patience. A photographer had to manipulate a bulky box camera, approximate when to remove the lens cap (there was no shutter), and possess the strength to carry the heavy camera and tripod combination over large distances to capture often poorly lit landscape images. Mr. Henneman much preferred studio portraits and evolved into a talented daguerreotypist in his own right, but he forever remained Mr. Talbot’s dedicated assistant and devoted friend.
In 1843, Mr. Henneman accompanied his boss to France, where his photographs were subsequently featured in Mr. Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature publication. Buoyed by the critical acceptance, he took the bold move of leaving his employment with Mr. Talbot to open his own full-service calotype business, believed to be the first of its kind. Within the modest grounds of a former schoolyard, Mr. Henneman constructed a glass house to serve as his studio, and he received some modest commissions to illustrate various historical texts, including Mr. Talbot’s Sun Pictures in Scotland and Sir William Stirling’s Annals of the Artists of Spain. In 1848, chemist Thomas Malone became a junior partner, necessitating a name change to Henneman & Malone. With the appointment as “Photographer in Ordinary to Her Majesty,” his conversion to wet-collodion processing, and his successful experiments to reduce exposure times, Mr. Henneman seemed assured of financial prosperity. However, his target market was too small, and his business closed with little notice.
Although Nicolaas Henneman was of the industry’s earliest architects, by the mid-1850s, the London photographic community was becoming exceedingly overcrowded. The soft-spoken Dutchman found himself being pushed out by a younger generation. After Mr. Henneman’s business went bankrupt, his steadfast champion Mr. Talbot quietly paid off his creditors. He moved to Birmingham, where he became an operator for master photographers Napoleon Sarony and Robert White Thrupp, among others. This proved to be both commercially unsuccessful and creatively unsatisfying. Ever the survivor, Mr. Henneman bought and operated a lodging house at 18 Half Moon Street in London during the 1870s. He died on January 18, 1898 at the age of 84, with his photographic contributions virtually forgotten. Fortunately, however, many of Nicolaas Henneman’s photographs have been preserved and can be seen in the collections of Lacock Abbey, Bradford’s National Media Museum, and in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.
2016 Aztecs, Ice Skating, & Miss Mitford’s Dog by Larry J. Schaaf (URL: https://talbot.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/2016/04/29/aztecs-ice-skating-miss-mitfords-dog).
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 648-650.
2007 Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 by Roger Taylor (New York, NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art), pp. 18-20, 326.
2018 Nicolaas Henneman Asleep, 1844-45 (URL: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/nicolaas-henneman-asleep-1844-45-by-talbot).
2017 Photography and Sculpture: The Art Object in Reproduction by Sarah Hamill and Megan R. Luke (Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Trust), pp. 277-278.
2011 Photography Theory in Historical Perspective by Hilde Van Gelder and Helen Westgeest (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell), p. 75.
2016 The Reading Establishment’s “Hidden Mysteries” by Larry J. Schaaf (URL: https://talbot.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/2016/12/09/hidden-mysteries-connected-with-the-subject)
2018 Zulu in Leopard Costume (URL: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/527477).
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