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Australian art


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circa 1910


John Kauffmann


29 Dec 1864 - 29 Nov 1942


John Kauffmann was born in South Australia. After a period apprenticed to an architectural firm in Adelaide, he went overseas in 1887. In Europe he studied photographic chemistry and reproduction processes and became interested in the work of the pioneering British pictorialists. He returned to Adelaide in 1897 and held an exhibition of his work in February of the following year. It had an enormous impact on the young Harold Cazneaux, who wrote ‘here was a new beauty beyond anything I had dreamed of in terms of the camera’.1

In 1909 Kauffmann moved to Melbourne and became a professional photographer. By 1919 his reputation was so established that the critic Leslie Beer published a book on him, one of the first monographs on any Australian artist. Kauffmann does not appear to have done any portraiture work, working instead for ‘The Home’ magazine and as the photographer for various books. Like the painters Hans Heysen and Claude Monet, Kauffmann invests his animal subjects with human qualities, the oval format of ‘Turkey’ suggesting a 19th-century painted portrait. This is a carbon print, one of Kauffmann’s favoured processes. Carbon prints often have a richness of shadow which approximates that of an oil painting, as the emulsion is relatively thick and there is the sense of looking through a layer of pigment. During the 1930s Kauffmann turned to close-up floral studies having become embittered by the lack of interest in the European pictorialist aesthetic at which he excelled.

1. Cato J 1955, 'The story of the camera in Australia', Georgian House, Melbourne p 151

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007



circa 1910

Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph


28.8 cm image (diam.); 34.4 x 30.4 cm sheet

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of John Bilney 1978


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

John Kauffmann

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


Sandra Byron, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Photography', pg. 125-135, Sydney, 1988, 126 (illus.).

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Australian Photography', pg. 198-207, Sydney, 1999, 201 (illus.).

Steven Miller, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Australian pictorialism', pg.71-91, Sydney, 2007, 73 (illus.), 80 (illus.).

Gael Newton, Australian Pictorial Photography, Melbourne, 1979, 11 (illus.), 19. 54