John KAUFFMANN, Jungle. Enlarge 1 /1

John KAUFFMANN

Truro, South Australia, Australia 1864 – South Yarra, Victoria, Australia 1942

Jungle. 1933 Materials & Technique: photographs, gelatin silver photograph

Dimensions: 30.5 h x 22.7 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1980
Accession No: NGA 80.3868
Subject: Art style: Pictorialism, Australia

In the early 1930s, the elderly Melbourne art photographer John Kauffmann produced a large number of luminous flower studies. These showed not only the influence of 1920s and 1930s Modernism in their abstract formal beauty but also that of the older soft-focus style of pictorialist art photography. Jungle was the title Kauffmann gave to this close-up study of light striking the woody stems of a rosebush. He was making a little joke, but also a serious point about the power of the camera to transform reality.

Born in Adelaide in 1864, Kauffmann became an enthusiastic practitioner of the impressionistic style of art photography, known later as Pictorialism, after he travelled to Europe in the 1880s. His artistic career in Australia began on his return to Adelaide in 1897. Over the next three decades, Kauffmann actively exhibited his work and undertook various professional assignments for magazines. He specialised in architectural, landscape and still-life work.

In 1933, critic Ambrose Pratt wrote in the November issue of the journal Manuscripts that Kauffmann would be most remembered for his flower studies. By the time he died in 1942, Kauffmann’s work was seen as old fashioned and he felt forgotten and unappreciated. The critic, however, was correct and Kauffmann’s floral studies are considered by some to be his lasting legacy.

Gael Newton


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002