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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Heinrich Kühn

Born: Carl Christian Heinrich Kühn 
Other: Heinrich Kuehn 
Dates:  1866, 25 February - 1944, 9 October
Born:  Germany, Dresden
Died:  Austria, Birgitz (check)
German pictorialist photographer and inventor.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Heinrich Kühn
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Kuehn (or Kühn) was the most productive and well-known Austrian pictorialist working around the turn of the twentieth century. He devoted much time to studying and writing about the theoretical and technical aspects of photography. Working in the rich processes of platinum, pigment, and gum-bichromate, he produced evocative pictures of children, figures, landscapes, and still lifes. His multi-color gum prints were sometimes impressively large, measuring up to 22 x 29 inches.
Heinrich Kuehn was born into a wealthy mercantile family, on February 25, 1866, in Dresden, Germany. In 1888, after completing his studies in science and medicine, he moved to Innsbruck, Austria. In 1896, he joined the Wiener Camera-Klub, where he met fellow pictorialists Hugo Henneberg and Hans Watzek. This trio soon formed the Trifolium (Kleeblatt), and added a symbolic three-leaf clover to their individual prints. They traveled together to Germany, Italy, and Holland, and presented an exhibition of their work in Vienna in the summer of 1897. The same year, Kuehn was elected to London’s prestigious Linked Ring Brotherhood.
Kuehn paid attention to modern art and in 1898 exhibited with the painters of the Munich Secession, whose subjects and compositions he admired. Seven years later, he built a summer house in Birgitz bei Innsbruck that was designed by Josef Hoffmann, the founder of the Wiener Werkstatte; the gable above the front door was carved with the words "Heil dir Sonne—Heil dir Licht" (Bless the Sun—Bless the Light). He opened a portrait studio in Innsbruck in 1906, and shortly thereafter experimented with the new Autochrome process, producing diffused color images on glass plates.
Kuehn organized the important Dresden photography exhibition of 1908, about the time he began moving away from pictorial imagery and making photogravures. In 1914, he opened a photography school in Innsbruck, which he ran for only about a year. Five years later, reduced finances forced him to sell his city house, close his studio, and move to Birgitz, where he remained the rest of his life.
Kuehn exhibited his work at major European photography exhibitions from 1895 to 1905, in Berlin, Brussels, Dresden, Glasgow, Hamburg, London, Paris, and Vienna. In this country, his photographs were included in the 1907 show of Austrian and German work at the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession and the 1910 International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography at the Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo.
Reproductions of Kuehn’s pictorial work appeared regularly in the photographic press at the same time. London’s Photograms of the Year included it in 1896 and 1897. Alfred Stieglitz featured his pictures, when he was editor of both Camera Notes and Camera Work; while the first periodical presented halftones of Kuehn’s pictures (including a self-portrait), the second one contained mostly rich photogravures—sixteen of them between 1906 and 1911. In 1902, Fritz Matthies-Masuren wrote a book on the gum-bichromate work of the Trifolium, with Kuehn’s work prominent.
Kuehn himself wrote many articles and books on photography. By 1896, he was contributing to German magazines such as Wiener Photographische Blätter, and later to Photographische Rundchau. During the 1920s and 1930s, he published many technical articles in the German annual Das Deutsche Lichtbild. His own books appeared in 1921 and 1926: Technik der Lichtbildnerei and Zur Photographischen Technik. By this time, he had codified his thinking into a theory he termed "Syngraphie," which suggested that highlight and shadow areas be printed separately, in order to approximate normal visual experience. Heinrich Kuehn died of gastro-intestinal poisoning and organ failure in Birgitz, Austria, on September 14, 1944. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

Biography provided by Focal Press 
Along with Hugo Henneberg (1863–1918) and Hans Watzek (1848–1903) formed the "Trifolium" of the Vienna Kamera-Club (1896–1903). Using the gum process, they exhibited under the collective known as Kleeblat (Cloverleaf ) and were a driving force of the Austro-German secession/pictorialist movement. An amateur since 1879 and a member of the Linked Ring, Kühn made multi-layered landscapes and portraits in gum and, later, oil-pigment printing. His characteristic style featured bold, emblematic compositions on textured paper, printed in appealing brown or blue hues. His approach, to at times photograph from above eye-level, broke with the passé habits of professional portraitists and began a progressive photographic movement in Germany that reflected the concerns of similar pictorial groups that sprang up worldwide. 
(Author: Robert Hirsch - Independent scholar and writer) 
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 

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Heinrich Kühn
Heinrich Kuhn with his camera 
Family history 
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Supplemental information


Heinrich Kühn
Austrian, 1866-1944

Heinrich Kühn made his first photographs in 1879, but he did not devote himself solely to photography until 1888. He studied botany and medicine, but he never practiced his vocation. Instead he went to Vienna and took portraits and joined the Vienna Camera Club. Here he met Professor Hans Watzek and Hugo Henneberg. The three men experimented with a multiple gum-bichromate process for color prints and together were known as the "Trifolium". The three founded the German-Austrian school of photography in 1912 and championed pictorialism. Kühn liked the idea of being able to manipulate the photograph and because his gum bichromate technique was so advanced, he was later able to produce his images of landscapes, portraits and genre scenes as platinum and oil-transfer prints. In 1895 he became a member of The Linked Ring and throughout the years his work was reproduced in many publications including Camera Work. Kühn's compositions were revolutionary at the time for emphasizing forms instead of details.
In the 1920s Kühn moved away from the idea of manipulating the print and instead believed it better to use a more straightforward approach to photography. He worked on various commercial assignments for magazines and later in 1927 he worked in the editorial section of Photographische Rundschau und Mitteilungen. In 1937 he received an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Innsbruck for his contribution to the scientific and artistic aspects of photography. His work can be found in such collections as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C, and the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1988 Residenz Verlag published a book on Kühn entitled, Heinrich Kühn Photographien.
[Contributed by Lee Gallery] 

Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.] Go to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.97 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.289 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Heinrich Kühn.] 
• Weaver, Mike (ed.) 1989 The Art of Photography 1839-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) p.459 [This exhibition catalogue is for the travelling exhibition that went to Houston, Canberra and London in 1989.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.177 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.252 
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.124 
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Heinrich Kühn are included in this classic history.] 


The wit and wisdom.

"I have dedicated my life to studying and determining the conditions under which it is possible to reproduce the intensity of light forces in nature through photography."
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