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Heinrich Kühn


Heinrich Kühn. Lotte, September 1907. Restricted gift of William Mares.

Also known as
Heinrich Kuehn, Heinrich Carl Christian Kuhn
Date of birth
Date of death

The grandson of a sculptor, Heinrich Kühn initially used photography to aid his medical studies. He gave up medicine for art around 1890, but spent much of his life pursuing technical research into new photographic lenses and printing processes.

Kühn belonged to the so-called Viennese Trifolium, a trio of photographers who took up gum bichromate printing after its rediscovery just before the turn of the century, and in 1896 he was the first to exhibit gum bichromate prints in Germany. Kühn was a deliberate photographer, sketching out his compositions beforehand and posing his children in a special “photo wardrobe” of black-and-white clothing. In the 1910s he developed a custom soft-focus lens that continued to be sold until around 1990, and he began writing about photographic technique for trade magazines in the 1920s. 

Kühn befriended American Pictorialist photographers Alfred Stieglitz, Frank Eugene, and Edward Steichen in Vienna and Munich in 1904–05. These connections strengthened ties between the American and Austro-German photography communities for several years. However, the two camps split over the direction they felt photographic art should take. Kühn remained committed throughout his life to almost painterly interpretations of pastoral and family scenes, creating soft, textured works with rich tonal values, while Stieglitz and Steichen—each in his own way—turned in the later 1910s toward emphatically modern subjects and approaches. In addition to his more artistic endeavors, Kühn ran a portrait studio in the Austrian town of Innsbruck from 1906 to 1919. He later moved to Innsbruck in 1920, and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Innsbruck in 1937. 

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