Karl Blossfeldt

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Karl Blossfeldt (1895)

Karl Blossfeldt (born June 13, 1865 in Schielo ; † December 9, 1932 in Berlin ) was a German photographer who was best known for his strictly formal plant photographs . In terms of photo art, he is considered a representative of the New Objectivity .


Karl Blossfeldt began an apprenticeship as a sculptor and modeller in an art foundry in 1881 and was already using leaves as templates for decorations. At the age of nineteen he began a basic course in drawing at the teaching facility of the Berlin Museum of Applied Arts . However, his passion continued to be photography. Therefore, from 1890 to 1896, he joined the project of the drawing teacher Moritz Meurer in Rome for the production of teaching materials for ornamental design. This marked the beginning of the systematic photo work on plants. In the following period the first publications appeared in the publications Meurer.

In 1898 Karl Blossfeldt began teaching as an assistant at the teaching facility of the Museum of Applied Arts in Berlin and from 1899 became a lecturer in the subject " Modeling from plants ". In 1921 he was appointed professor, from 1924 at the United State Schools for Free and Applied Arts Berlin. His gallery owner , Karl Nierendorf (1889–1947) from Berlin , exhibited his photographs in 1926 with African and oceanic sculptures, Walter Benjamin was among the reviewers - the lasting effect his photographs had on modernism was immediately recognized. His first book “ Urformen der Kunst ” was published in 1928 by Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, Berlin; it made Karl Blossfeldt famous almost overnight. After his retirement in 1932, shortly before his death in 1932, the illustrated book “Wundergarten der Natur” was published .


Artistic concern

Blossfeldt saw his photographs as teaching material and not as an independent artistic achievement. He thinks that "photography is the best tool for working out plant details" and used photography because of its practical advantages. In doing so, he made a compromise between the original preparation and drawing as a template and teaching material for drawing lessons. The photographs were projected onto the wall and served as a template for drawing exercises. The prerequisite for this was a clear image with sharp contours.

Furthermore, Blossfeldt illustrated shapes and structures of nature and thus worked towards the ornamental design of products.

Blossfeldt himself was more of a plant enthusiast than a professional photographer . With his exact studies he discovered graphic details and proceeded botanically and scientifically by labeling his photographs with Latin names. In doing so, he continued the tradition of herbaria .

In the foreword to his book Wonder Garden of Nature , he writes:

  • The "image documents" speak for themselves.
  • “My plant certificates should help to restore the connection with nature. They should awaken the sense of nature again, point out the abundant treasure trove of forms in nature and encourage observation of our native flora. "

He evaluates the plant as an artistic- architectural structure, which creates not only useful but also artistic forms. Nature is thus to be seen as a “teacher” for art and technology.



Ultimately, the plants were shown magnified up to 12-45 times . The negative was taken on a scale of 1: 1, of which enlargements were then made. Therefore, the plants had to lie very quietly, Blossfeldt often used panes of glass as a holder or as a base so that the background was out of focus. He put dried plants upright in modeling clay or even hung them up. The reflection in the image caused by the glass plate was retouched before publication. "Incorrect" recordings were also made, but these were also collected by him. The picture was enlarged on gelatin silver paper, mostly in the format 30 × 24 cm, but also 24 × 60 cm. Or he made slides 9 × 12 cm for his art class, which he was able to show in large format with the help of a projector on a suitable projection surface.


Blossfeldt used a (presumably self-made) plate camera .


The negative had a format of 6 × 9, 9 × 12, 13 × 18, rarely 9 × 18. The glass plates were mostly coated with orthochromatic emulsion , rarely with panchromatic emulsion. Therefore, the plants were shown with sharp contours.


  • Perspective: top view, direct side view
  • Background: neutral: monochrome (black / gray / white)
  • Exposure : diffuse grazing light / soft daylight, which makes the picture appear dark
  • Detail view
  • high depth of field


  • Archetypes of art. Verlag Ernst Wasmuth, Berlin 1928. (Published as a book with dust jacket and portfolio in various bindings, with 120 full-page plates, introduction by Karl Nierendorf. Second edition 1929.)
    • Archetypes of art. Portfolio from 1928 in facsimile. With an additional text booklet, edited by Anne Gantführer-Trier. Photography and Art History Foundation - Ann and Jürgen Wilde, Cologne 2003. (With 120 loose panels.)
    • Karl Blossfeldt's work was published in English under the title Art Forms in Nature in London by A. Zwemmer and in New York by E. Weyhe in 1929.
      • Art Forms in the Plant World. ( Urformen der Kunst ), 1929 English edition reprinted from a paperback edition, Dover Publications, New York 1985.
      • Art Forms in Nature appeared as a popular edition with 96 plates by A. Zwemmer in London in 1935, 1936 and 1967; with E. Weyhe New York 1935 and Universe Books, New York 1967.
    • The work was published by A. Calavas in Paris in 1929 under the title La Plante
each with the translated introduction by Karl Nierendorf.
    • The work was published under the title Konstformer i Naturen with a foreword by Axel L. Romdahl and L. Scottsberg in a special binding with a dust jacket in Stockholm in 1930.
    • Urformen der Kunst was published by Verlag Ernst Wasmuth, Berlin in 1935 as a popular edition with 96 panels, and unchanged: 1936, 1941, 1948 (place of publication Tübingen). The 1967 edition, the last from the Ernst Wasmuth publishing house, appeared in a different layout.
    • Further editions of this work in the form prescribed by the Ernst Wasmuth publishing house are not yet known.
    • Archetypes of art. Ed. Ann and Jürgen Wilde, with the foreword by Karl Nierendorf from 1928 and a biographical afterword by Ann and Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich. (= Volume 303 of the Bibliophile Pocket Books of Harenberg Verlag) Dortmund 1982. (Illustrated cover. The book was published in this form in 13 editions.)
  • Nature's wonder garden . New series of archetypes of art . Verlag für Kunst-Wissenschaft, Berlin-Friedenau 1932. (Introduction: Karl Blossfeldt; 14 pages of text and 120 plates in rotogravure. This work was published as a book edition with a dust jacket and portfolio with loose plates.)
  • Under the title Art Forms in Nature, Second series , the work was published in the same format as the German edition by A. Zwemmer in London and E. Weyhe in New York in 1932. (See new edition together with Urformen der Kunst by Schirmer / Mosel , Munich 1981, with several editions.)
  • Miracles in nature. Image documents of beautiful plant forms by Karl Blossfeldt, introduction by Otto Dannenberg, 12 pages of text and 120 plates in gravure. Pantheon Verlag H.Schmidt & Günther, Leipzig 1942. (Only published as a book edition with a dust jacket.)
  • Archetypes of art and the wonder garden of nature. Karl Blossfeldt's photographic work in one volume. Foreword by Gert Mattenklott, botanical adaptation by Harald Kilias. Verlag Schirmer / Mosel Munich 1994. (With dust jacket and further editions until 2008 uf)
  • Karl Blossfeldt, photographs 1900–1932. Catalog for the exhibition in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn 1976. Introduction by Christoph Rüger, text by Klaus Honnef, selection of images and exhibition: Ann and Jürgen Wilde, Karl Blossfeldt Archive, Zülpich. In the appendix further texts by Karl Nierendorf (see Urformen der Kunst 1928), Karl Blossfeldt (see Wundergarten der Natur 1932) and Walter Benjamin: Review of Urformen der Kunst in The literary world 1928.


  • Birgit Hammers: Fascination with plants. Karl Blossfeldt's photo books . In: Manfred Heiting, Roland Jaeger (Hrsg.): Autopsy. German-language photo books 1918 to 1945. Volume 1 . Steidl, Göttingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-86930-412-0 , pp. 188-201

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