Fritz Luckhardt was born in Kassel, Germany on March 17, 1843. The scion of a soap manufacturing family, the senior Luckhardt had carved his own professional niche as a publisher and book dealer. His son was expected to join the family soap-making business and was educated at the Kassel Academy of Art and later studied chemistry at the Kasseler Polytechnikum. After graduation, he received further scientific instruction at Hanover, and then began working at a perfumery in Paris. However, while in Paris, Mr. Luckhardt's career path would take a fateful turn when he met Rene Prudent Patrice Dagron, a local photographer who in 1859 received the first patent for microfilm. Mr. Dagron hired the young photography enthusiast to work for his manufacturing company, which Mr. Luckhardt would fondly recall as the most valuable technical training he would ever receive. After living and working in Paris for a few years, he decided to move to London, where he worked in the laboratory of J. R. Johnson, with whom he collaborated on a rotating panoramic camera.
In 1865, Mr. Luckhardt would settle permanently in Vienna where he worked as a translator for publisher and photo dealer Oskar Kramer. Through his employment with Mr. Kramer, he met Belgian chemist and photographic historian Desire Charles Emanuel van Monckhoven, who encouraged him to purchase the studio of local photographer Emil Rabending in 1867. Mr. Luckhardt quickly established himself as the premier society photographer in Vienna, with the full support of his wife Franziska, known affectionately as "Fanny." He became Secretary of the Photographic Society of Vienna in 1871, a post he retained until 1887. Mr. Luckhardt's specialty was his sensitive portraits of beautiful women (predominantly actresses).
His exclusive elite services were highly sought and admittedly discriminating. There was a sign in Mr. Luckhardt's reception area that read, "Under no circumstances whatever can portraits of little children be taken!" As the genial master photographer explained, "You see, I am not a baby's photographer. It requires a good deal of natural tact to deal with children, and I frankly confess I have not the proper attributes." Mr. Luckhardt was also uncompromisingly frank in his appraisals of his female sitters. For the woman whose unrealistic expectations of perfection fell far short in previous portrait sittings, he would say, "I will do what I can, madam, of course; but it seems to me, if all these gentlemen have tried their best and failed, that the fault is not theirs, but your own." Mr. Luckhardt was a painstaking craftsman who was not satisfied until he had achieved the desired lighting for his subject. He would place the chair approximately 6' from the light side of his studio, then moving the camera or the sitter as needed, adding, "It is so much easier to move the camera than the sitter." For the appropriate shadowing, he would manipulate a 5' screen fitted with both light and dark fabric.
By 1870, Mr. Luckhardt had achieved unparalleled success as a portraitist, which was duly recognized with the imperial title of "K.K. Photographer." He also received an honorary professorship from the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen. Despite his busy schedule, he maintained active membership in various photographic societies in Berlin and Frankfurt as well as in the Viennese Camera Club. Fifty-one-year-old Fritz Luckhardt died of heart disease on November 29, 1894. His widow Fanny continued to operate the studio for several years after his death. In 1900, French photographer Felix Nadar proclaimed that Fritz Luckhardt was and would forever be, "The master of the masters."
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 875.
1882 The Photographic Studios of Europe (London: Piper & Carter), pp. 237-241.
1895 Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Vol. XXXII (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 113-115.
Copyright © 2002 - 2019 Historic Camera