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John Kauffmann was born in South Australia in 1864, the son of a storekeeper, later proprietor, of an importing firm in Adelaide from the 1870s, A. Kauffmann & Son. John’s elder brother, Louis, was taken into the business, whilst he was apprenticed as a clerk in an architect’s office.

In 1887 Kauffmann travelled to England to gain further experience but abandoned this work to become one of the many converts to pictorial photography.

Kauffmann studied photographic chemistry and the new reproduction processes in England and Europe then returned to Adelaide in 1897. Although he does not appear to have exhibited at the photographic salons of the avant garde pictorialists of the Linked Ring, Kauffmann was referred to as a “medallist” on his return.

Kauffmann’s work received quick recognition by the press on his return and he gained medals at the South Australian Photographic Society annual salons and the main societies in New South Wales and Victoria.

By 1902 his standing was such that he was invited to judge his own society’s first international salons in 1902-03. Adelaide art circles’ tastes in the 1890s were swinging to impressionist theories and Kauffmann’s landscapes were admired for their delicate mist effects.

Harold Cazneaux (q.v.) who was directly inspired to take up photography as an art by seeing these exhibitions, always referred to Kauffmann as the pioneer pictorialist of Australia.

In 1909 Kauffmann moved to Melbourne and by 1914 had set up his own studio in Collins Street.

Kauffmann was given one-man shows by the Amateur Photographic Association of. Victoria in 1910 and 1914, and the latter show was also shown in Sydney. In 1919 a monograph on his work, The Art of John Kauffrnann. was published. It was probably the first monograph on an Australian photographer.

Kauffmann’s activities as a professional were largely illustrations for magazines such as The Home or books, one on Melbourne in 1931 for Sydney Ure Smith, one on the Sunraysia District around 1920.

He does not appear to have done any portraiture and took few pupils - his income came from print sales for which he charged up to ten guineas.

Kauffmann was an aloof personality and did not participate in lecturing at societies or reviewing.

Kauffmann’s style evolved from atmospheric naturalism through the exaggerated soft focus of the 1905-15 years and thereafter retained a luminous softness and dark tonality.

The vogue for Australian sunshine around 1920 made his work outdated and Kauffmann expressed some bitterness to Cazneaux as to the lack of recognition of his pioneering work.

In the 19305 Kauffmann turned to close-up floral studies (due probably to poor eyesight) which are often striking and bold in composition and modern despite the soft diffusion of detail.

In urban studies Kauffmann also showed a receptivity to treating everyday or industrial subjects pictorially, quite unlike other pictorialists, as in plates 31 (Leaf Study, 1930s) and 46 (The Cloud, 1910).


above text based on Gaël Newton's Silver & Grey
Angus and Roberston, Australia 1980


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