Willem Witsen

Table of contents

An overview of the Willem Witsen collection

  • Contents: large collection of letters addressed to painter, etcher, photographer and publicist Willem Witsen (1860-1923).
  • Size: around 1,400 letters and several manuscripts.
  • Access: can be found via the KB catalogue. Available for inspection in the Special Collections reading room; cannot be lent out. The digitised letters are in DBNL. The letters have also been incorporated into the Catalogus Epistularum Neerlandicarum (CEN) online catalogue.
  • More informationJeroen Vandommele

History of the Willem Witsen collection

The collection contains more than 1,400 letters to artist and writer Willem Witsen, written by the many writers and artists with whom he was acquainted. These include Lodewijk van Deyssel, Willem Kloos, Jacobus van Looy, George Hendrik Breitner and Isaac Israëls. Many of the artists' letters contain original drawings.

The collection also includes nearly 100 letters from Willem Witsen himself, providing an impression of who Witsen was as a writer. In addition, the collection contains several manuscripts, including the poem In de nacht is een mensch aangetreden by Herman Gorter, written in response to the tragic death of Witsen's sister Anna.

  • Herman Gorter, ‘In de nacht is een mensch aangetreden’, 1889.

Origins of the Willem Witsen collection

The collection was transferred to the KB in 1945, by the Witsenhuis in Amsterdam. In 1996, one of Witsen's grandsons donated 93 letters to the KB, most of which has been written by Witsen himself, and for the largest part addressed to family members.

Accessibility of the Willem Witsen collection

The Willem Witsen collection can be consulted in the KB's Special Collections reading room. Letters, portraits and other materials from the collections of the KB, the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam and the Witsenhuis in Amsterdam can be found via Delpher. Willem Witsen's letters can also be searched digitally via the Huygens Institute website and via DBNL.

Relationship with other collections

The collection of letters to Willem Witsen has many connections with the Willem Kloos, De Nieuwe Gids and Jacques Perk collections. Documents from the hand of, or about, Willem Witsen can also be found at other institutions, such as the Witsenhuis in Amsterdam and the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam.

Literature about the Willem Witsen collection (in Dutch)


  • Thomassen, K. ‘Willem Witsen, kunstenaar 1860-1923’. Verzamelaars en verzamelingen. Koninklijke Bibliotheek 1798-1998. Wbooks, 1998, pp. 130-132.


  • Vergeer, C. Toen werden schoot en boezem lekkernij. Erotiek van de Tachtigers. Rap, 1990.
  • Wiel, R. van der. Ewijkshoeve, tuin van tachtig. Querido, 1988.