BLOSSFELDT, Karl. Urformen der Kunst. Berlin: Verlag Ernst Wasmuth A.G., [1928].

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Urformen der Kunst. Photographische Pflanzenbilder von Professor Karl Blossfeldt. Herausgegeben mit einer einleitung von Karl Nierendorf. 120 Bildtafeln.
Berlin: Verlag Ernst Wasmuth A.G., [1928].

Folio (312 × 242 mm), pp.xx, [240]. 120 black-and-white photographs printed in gravure. Plain endpapers. Green cloth-covered boards, spine titled in gilt, front titled and with a design after one of the photographs in gilt; light stain to verso of one plate at fore-edge. Black-and-white photo-illustrated dust-jacket; light wear to edges, light wear to front panel and a short closed tear expertly restored, a little darkened particularly at spine. Publisher’s printed card slipcase with titles on spine; worn and toned. Former owner’s contemporary inscription on front free endpaper. A fine copy in an excellent dust-jacket with the scarce original slipcase.

First edition. Urformen der Kunst is an important and influential work, a cornerstone of the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) movement in Germany, and a concensus highlight of twentieth century photobook collecting. Karl Blossfeldt had originally trained as a sculptor, and as an amateur botanist was fascinated by the underlying structures of nature as explored by Ernst Haeckel in Kunstformen der Natur (1899-1904). He began photographing plants and flowers against a plain card background in the late 1890s for use at the Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum (School of Arts & Crafts) where he taught on the industrial design and applied arts courses for over thirty years. In his classes Blossfeldt explored the link between the structure of plants and artistic form, using his photographs to show students how solutions anticipated by nature could be applied to products such as ironwork and wallpaper designs.

Blossfeldt's photographs were first exhibited in 1926 at the Nierendorf Gallery, Berlin, where they were shown together with African sculpture to emphasise their primitive and anthropomorphic aspects. Karl Nierendorf helped to prepare the work for publication as Urformen der Kunst, and contributed the introduction. Blossfeldt died in December 1932, in his second book of photographs, Wundergarten der Natur, which was published earlier that year, he wrote: ’The plant must be valued as a totally artistic and architectural structure… [nature] is an educator about beauty and intrinsic feeling. My documents of plants shall promote again the unity with nature’.

Sinibaldi, A. and Couturier, J-L., Regards sur un siècle de photographie à travers Le Livre (27); Fernandéz, H., Fotografia Pública: Photography in Print 1919-1939 p.59; Roth A., The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century pp.48-9; Parr, M. and Badger, G., The Photobook: A History vol.I p.96; Roth, A., The Open Book: A History of the Photographic Book from 1878 to the Present pp.66-7; Auer, M. and M., 802 photo books from the M + M Auer collection p.133; Heiting, M. and Jaeger, R., Autopsie: Deutschsprachige Fotobücher 1918-1945 vol.I pp.188-201.


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