Heinrich Kühn

Heinrich Kühn photographed by Rudolph Dührkoop, 1903
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Heinrich Kühn was an important German art photographer and practitioner of Pictorialism. Together with the amateur photographers Hugo Henneberg and Hans Watzek, he founded the Trifolium group of artists. He presented his photographic works at the Vienna Secession and Galerie Miethke.

Heinrich Kühn, born in Dresden in 1866, studied medicine and natural sciences in Leipzig, Berlin, and Freiburg. Soon after graduating, he moved to Innsbruck and lived there as a man of independent means.

Heinrich Kühn on the Austrian Art Scene
In Austria, Kühn devoted himself entirely to photography. By 1895 he had become a member of the Club of Vienna’s Amateur-Photographers, the future Camera Club, and a year later joined the association The Linked Ring. It was during this time that he met the physicist Hugo Henneberg and the painter Hans Watzek, with whom he formed a group known as Trifolium in the 1890s. Together they traveled, published articles on photography, and exhibited at the Vienna Secession. They also developed an innovative printing and copying process that enabled a new colorfulness in photographic reproduction. Heinrich Kühn, who ran a portrait studio in Innsbruck between 1906 and 1919, made use of this technique over several years; later he also experimented with other fine-art printing processes and invented new reproduction techniques himself, such as rubber engraving and “syngraphy.”

Participation in Important Exhibitions at Home and Abroad
In 1907, Heinrich Kühn exhibited his photographic works at Galerie Miethke together with Klimt’s photographer Friedrich Viktor Spitzer and sculptor Ilse Conrat. The Wiener Zeitung reported on 14 May 1907:

“Artistic photographs by Heinrich Kühn and Dr. F.V. Spitzer are currently to be encountered at Miethke’s. At first sight, the works of the two gentlemen are thought to be roughly equal, but they are by no means. Kühn’s achievements are much higher. They reveal painterly subtleties and technical perfection [...].”

During that same period, photographic works by the Trifolium artists were presented in New York on a regular basis. This was made possible by the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, with whom Heinrich Kühn had corresponded since the 1890s and whom he had also met in person in 1904. In 1909, Heinrich Kühn took part in the “Internationale photographische Ausstellung” [“International Photographic Exhibition”] in Dresden.

Activities as a Writer and Retirement
Heinrich Kühn retired after World War I. He documented his photographic research and worked as an editor for such professional journals as Das Atelier des Photographen and Die Photographische Rundschau.

On the occasion of his 70th birthday, the University of Innsbruck awarded him an honorary doctorate for his achievements in the field of photography. The art photographer died in Tyrol in 1944.

Literature and sources

  • Alfred Buschbeck: Das Trifolium des Wiener Camera-Clubs: Hans Watzek. Hugo Henneberg. Heinrich Kühn, in: Die Kunst in der Photographie, 2. Jg. (1898), S. 17-24.
  • Historische Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Hg.): Neue Deutsche Biografie, Band 13, Berlin 1982, S. 17-24.
  • Camera Work. A Photographic Quarterly, Heft 13 (1906), S. 21-28.
  • Camera Work. A Photographic Quarterly, Heft 20 (1907), S. 26.
  • Znaimer Tagblatt, 21.09.1944, S. 4.
  • Wiener Zeitung, 14.05.1907, S. 18.
  • Wiener Zeitung, 06.05.1909, S. 6.
  • Walter de Gruyter (Hg.): Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon. Die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker, Band LXXXII, Berlin 2014, S. 187.