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Special Exhibit: Karl Blossfeldt, Urformen der Kunst

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The magnificent, modernist botanical studies of the German photographer Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) were first published in his "Urformen der Kunst" in 1928. The work contains 120 single-sided rotary gravure plates, prefaced with an introductory text and list of plate subjects. A second edition of the work was published in 1929, containing the same images and text as the first edition. The 1929 edition was printed in Germany in German, American, English, and perhaps other national versions, which seem to differ only in the publisher's imprint and opening text. English printings of the 1929 edition were given the title "Art Forms in Nature".

While the 1929 second edition of "Urformen der Kunst" contains the same images as the first, these seem to have been printed from a different set of printing plates. Having had the opportunity to examine a copy cataloged as first edition from the Yale Library, along with American, German and British 1929 editions, the following differences were noted: First edition plates are neutal in tone, while those from the second edition have a slightly green tone. First edition plates are sometimes more "contrasty" than second edition plates (although this was not the case for all plates in the series) and first edition plates are often of slightly narrower dimensions. Along with these differences in dimension, plates from the two editions show a variety of differing printing flaws which indicate that each edition was printed from a different set of printing plates. In contrast, aside from small variations which probably stem from the nature of rotogravure printing, the three 1929 editions examined appeared identical in the dimensions, coloration, and imperfections of the plates. The photographs on plates 62 and 118 appear to have been rotated 180 degrees in the second edition.

A second work "Wundergarten der Natur" was published with a new set of 120 images in 1932. After Blossfeldt's death in 1932 a number of works were published with his images, which continue to the present day. A different "Urformen der Kunst" / "Art Forms in Nature" was published with 96 gravures in various editions circa 1935-1941, and a "Wunder in der Natur" with 120 gravures was printed circa 1942, during WWII in Leipzig.

This exhibition includes all 120 plates of the first version of "Urformen der Kunst," taken from the 1929 second edition (German and American printings). The gravures measure roughly 10.25 x 7.5 inches (26x19 cm) and are printed on sheets 12.25 x 9.5 inches (31x24 cm) with plate number printed in the lower right corner. Images illustrated in horizontal format have been rotated 90 degrees clockwise. Plate descriptions are transcribed from the American printing (E. Weythe, New York, 1929).

Images and text copyright 2006 by Christopher Wahren Fine Photographs

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