February 9, 2010

Karl Blossfeldt

Karl Blossfeldt, Saxifraga Wilkommniana (magnified 18 times), photogravure, 10 1/4 x 7 1/2, 1928

Karl Blossfeldt, Cucurbita, (magnified 3 times), photogravure, 10 1/4 x 7 1/2, 1928

These two stunning images, details of plant forms, are hanging above my desk and are vivid reminders of the power of clarity, simplicity, and intense observation; they are a wonderful antidote to the clutter of life and work around me. My framed works are photogravures from the book Art Forms in Nature (1928) by Karl Blossfeldt (1865 - 1932), a German professor of design in Berlin. The plain drama of these compositions––magnified plant parts, displayed on a plain ground, often symmetrical, seeming to be an abstraction from nature––appeal to our modern sensibility. The photographs were not made as art, but as teaching tools for Blossfeldt's course on plant modeling; forms from nature were seen as excellent sources of design ideas. Because actual plant material was so fragile, Blossfeldt found that making photographs––using a macro lens and enlarging the detail many times––was just as effective as a teaching tool.

When Art Forms in Nature was published, it received high praise from art critics and historians, establishing as art what the photographer had not considered as such. For us, I believe there's no question that whatever the initial motivation of their maker, these works provide a moving aesthetic experience. As we follow the changes of form, from large volumes to smaller, straight to curved, and notice the intricate details of surface, we enter a new world, once hidden: its tactile and visual pleasures enlarge us.

*The photographs below were taken from the book Karl Blossfeldt: Photography, which is no longer in print. The original photos were used for the illustrations and are all 30 x 24 cm, or approximately 11.8 x 9.4 inches. To see more of the images from Art Forms in Nature, use the link above.

Blossfeldt, Chrysanthemum carinatum (Painted Daisy), enlarged 20 times

Blossfeldt, Equisetum hyemale (Winter Horsetail), enlarged 30 times

Blossfeldt, Phacelia congesta (Blue Curls), enlarged 8 times

Blossfeldt, Papaver orientale (Oriental Poppy), enlarged 6 times

Blossfeldt, Trollius ledebourii (Globeflower), enlarged 12 times


  1. Magnificent photographs - very inspiring.
    Thanking you for bringing them to us.

  2. Thanks, Altoon, i didn't know about this photographer. Or many of these plant forms! Beautiful.

  3. I'm so glad you like this work, Pamela and Susan. I'm glad to be able to introduce Blossfeldt to anyone who doesn't know about him. One thing I didn't mention in the post was that he made over 6,000 images; only a tiny proportion were published.

  4. I looked at the pictures first: the top two forms appeared to be made of wrought iron, the lower of cement/plaster. On reading your notes I realized once again Mother Nature can't be beat. The full range of photos on the attached website were spectacular. Maybe I'll use them as inspiration for our new Spring line.

  5. How interesting that you'd mention wrought iron, a., since Blossfeldt apprenticed as a decorative cast iron worker as a young man. Yes, aren't the images inspiring? it would be terrific to use them for contemporary design.

  6. Thanks for reminding me of these and including one that was new to me. Interesting to note how they continue to speak strongly through decades and different life phases. Also how endearingly anthropromorphic (sp?) the poppies are.

  7. His lighting is amazing. I love how his work has made many people go look at plants more closely.

  8. After a month I looked for your site again and am enchanted by the Karl Blossfeldt. Good photos, lovely choices and detail! It really does need art to bring nature to our attention. Years ago I went to a musty display in a Harvard lab of marvellous glass insects and flowers - this reminded me of the wonder at seeing nature as if for the first time via the eyes of other observers.
    Keep warm and safe in the blizzards!

  9. great to read/see more on Blossfeldt Altoon! The more you see the more you see...
    late sunday night... short on words...
    have a wonderful week...and keep warm with all that snow around!

  10. I'm happy to read that you all enjoyed seeing these works; I feel lucky to have two hanging on my wall. They continue to amaze, and to teach attention to nature.

    (sorry to say we haven't had much snow here in northern Vermont; it's staying to the south of us.)

  11. Not too many years back, Taschen published "Karl Blossfeldt" which contains images from all three of his books and some previously unpublished images as well. It's a wonderful book since it is difficult to find (or afford) original copies of his books.

  12. Im just looking at this for homework but these pictures are pretty cool.

  13. What a particularly enchanting entry, Altoon. The earlier comments linking art (and craft) with nature fit beautifully.

  14. the poppy left down is somniferum not oriental