The photographs by Heinrich Kühn on view at the MFAH radiate bourgeois languor. His images from the early years of the 20th century conjure visions of privileged Viennese children on country outings with their governess, flower-filled vases, and women in billowing skirts.
Working in various photographic processes, like gum bichromate, which create soft-edged images, Kühn (1866-1944) made prints that resemble pastel or charcoal drawings in their subtlety.
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Part of the Pictorialist movement that approached photography as an artistic medium, Kühn even ventured into color using multi-layered processes to create works like Mary Warner and Edeltrude, his 1908 image of his daughter with the family's governess. Warner (who seems to have had something more than an employee/employer relationship with the widowed Kühn) is show in a vividly blue, wasp-waisted Edwardian dress.
Like many of the photographer's images, it is shot in an open field, implying a leisurely family outing. In reality, Kühn's photographs took hours, as his sitters, mainly his children and Warner, held poses or sat waiting for the sun and shadows to move into perfect composition.
The images were far less leisurely than they appear, not to mention the fact that Kühn continued to create them as the carnage of WWI encroached.
The exhibition runs through May 30 at The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 5601 Main St. For information, call 713-639-7300.