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At first glance, it is just a portrait of a young man and his wife, both comfortably off, fashionably dressed. But in actual fact we are looking at something quite unique: it is the earliest photograph from Suriname, taken a mere six years after announcement of the invention of the medium, and one of the rare examples from the pioneering era (1840–60) to have survived in the Caribbean.
After exhibition of this photograph of Johannes Ellis and Maria Louisa de Hart at the Rijksmuseum in 2009, other Surinamese portraits were discovered in the Netherlands. They completely overturn our image of a white governing and mercantile elite presiding over the ‘noble savage’. Research has shed new light on the earliest photographers and their clients, and the family history of Johannes and Maria Louisa. They prove to be closely bound up with the history of the Netherlands and its colonies, in the West and the East Indies. All in all, food for historians and material for a novel or exciting adventure film.
In this edition in the Rijksmuseum Series author Mattie Boom tells the story about the earliest photograph from Suriname of the couple Johannes Ellis and Maria Louise de Hart.