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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Rudolf Koppitz

Dates:  1884, 3 January - 1936
Born:  Austria [Poland, Silesia, Schreiberseifen/Skrbovice] (nr. Freudenthal/Bruntál)
Died:  Austria, Perchtoldsdorf (nr. Vienna)
Active:  Austria
Austrian pictorialist who used the gum bichromate process, bromoil and other processes who was towards the end of his career influenced by “Neues Sehen” (New Vision).
Rudolf Koppitz (b. 1884, Schreiberseifen/Skrbovice near Freudenthal/Bruntál – d. 1936, Perchtoldsdorf near Vienna)
Following an apprenticeship as a professional photographer in Austrian Silesia, he attended the Imperial and Royal School of Graphics (k.k. Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt, “Graphische”) in Vienna in 1912/13. His early works give evidence of the influence of his teacher, the Czech symbolist Karel Novák, and the circle of the Vienna Secession. Following these influences he had his penchant for ornament and a preference for stylized compositions. In 1913, Koppitz was appointed an assistant at the Graphische, but was shortly afterwards enlisted for war service. He was assigned different tasks in Galicia and later Italy in the area of reconnaissance photography which at that time still was in its very beginnings. Later, flying missions over enemy territory, he did a number of spectacular aerial shots.
After the war, he returned to the Graphische where he quickly got assigned as a teacher. In summer 1923, he married Anna Arbeitlang, who had also worked at the school as an assistant teacher. During this time he did his first nude photos: his preferred models were dancers, although he himself also posed nude before the camera. Extensive exhibition activities started in 1924. Until his death he participated in about 60 exhibitions in Austria and abroad. In 1929/30, he saw his biggest international successes: his most famous work, “Movement Study” (1925), was used as an illustration in the “Encyclopædia Britannica” as the most prominent example of “Art Photography”. Early in 1930, an exhibition of Koppitz’s works travelled from New York to San Francisco. The works shown were still strongly influenced by Pictorialism.
In the same year, however, the FiFo (“Internationale Ausstellung des Deutschen Werkbundes – Film und Foto”) came to Vienna after being shown in Stuttgart. It had decisive influence on Koppitz’s artistic development. The “Neues Sehen” (New Vision) led him to turn away from symbolist compositions and toward a more factual and documentary oriented photography. His preferred subjects now were rustic life as well as rural and sports scenes. In 1936, the most comprehensive exhibition of his work took place: in a show entitled “Country and People”, the Museum of Art and Industry, today's MAK, presented a survey of 500 works focused mainly on rustic and rural subjects.
Curator (Bonartes Photo Institute): Monika Faber / Curator (Moravská galerie): Petra Medríková
Supplied by: Magdalena Vukovic (11 July 2013)

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Rudolf Koppitz
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Koppitz was the most important photographer active in Austria between the World Wars. His work was an amalgamation of modernism and pictorialism, picturing landscapes, nudes, dancers, and peasants. The year after his death, an oversize, deluxe book of his pictures was published by Die Galerie in Vienna.
Rudolf Koppitz was born into poverty on January 3, 1884, in the small village of Schreiberseifen, now a part of the Czech Republic. At age fifteen, he passed his apprentice exam in photography, and in 1902 he began working short stints in a number of studios in different towns over the next ten years. During this period, he also served in the Austrian military as an aviator and worked in a Dresden firm that made synthetic diamonds. His last job in a photographic studio was in Vienna’s respected Atelier d’Ora in 1912.
Later that year, Koppitz enrolled in the Imperial and Royal Institute for Teaching and Research in the Graphic Arts, in Vienna. In 1913, after only one year as a student, he became an assistant for retouching and portrait and landscape photography. This appointment was interrupted by World War I, during which he did reconnaissance photography for the military. He resumed teaching at the institute in 1918, where he remained until his death, at which point he was the director of the entire department of photography. He also gave private photography lessons out of his studio beginning in the late 1920s.
Koppitz appears to have begun making personal work in about 1908, photographing the architecture of Vienna in soft focus. In 1923, he produced a body of work of male nudes, often using himself as subject. These pictures celebrated the new concept of physical culture, involving gymnastics, sports, nudism, and modern dance. The next year, he presented a massive, four-hundred print exhibition at the Vienna Chamber of Commerce. By this time, he was proficient in such control processes as carbon, pigment, bromoil transfer, and gum bichromate.
Koppitz was most prominent internationally from the mid-1920s to early 1930s. His work was accepted by at least fifteen photographic salons in the United States in this period, including the prestigious one in Pittsburgh from 1926 to 1928. In 1930, Vienna’s Photographic Society awarded him a gold medal, and a solo show of his work traveled among camera clubs in New York, Rochester, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington (D.C.), Chicago, and San Francisco. The American Annual of Photography reproduced his work in 1928, 1929, 1930, 1934, and 1935.
After 1930, Koppitz concentrated on photographing peasant life in the Alpine areas of western Austria and Moravia. Turning his camera on people, animals, and the land, he ceased manipulating his images and printed them in a straightforward manner on standard silver paper. Despite the seemingly ethnographic nature of this project, most of the images still reveal his strong sense of design and composition.
While Koppitz’s name is not widely known outside of Austria, his signature image Bewegungsstudie (Movement Study) is. This unforgettable picture features a svelte female nude leaning backwards, in front of a frieze-like group of black-robed women, whom together form a triangular, compositional mass. The stylized poses, repetition, and whiplash lines clearly show the influence of the art of Vienna Secession artists like Gustav Klimt.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts’s print of this image has an intriguing provenance. It was probably acquired directly from Koppitz by the Chicago pictorialist Max Thorek, who traded prints with many other photographers. In 1935, Thorek gave this print to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, which in the late 1990s decided to dispose of its collection of creative photographs. It did not sell when offered at a 2005 auction at Sotheby’s New York, but was bought shortly thereafter by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Koppitz died suddenly in Vienna in 1936. His wife, Anna, continued to teach photography in his studio afterwards and was largely responsible for maintaining her husband’s archive until her own death in 1989. She was also a likely collaborator in some of his work and is known to have performed expert retouching on the Bewegungsstudie negative. 
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.
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Further research

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If you have a portrait of this photographer or know of the whereabouts of one we would be most grateful.
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Visual indexes

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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

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.150 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Rudolf Koppitz.] 

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 
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