Artist Spotlight: Käthe Kollwitz (German, 1865-1945)

After the Battle, 1921; Etching on paper (restrike), 15 1/2 x 20 in. Gift of Grant and Virginia D. Green

After the Battle, 1921; Etching on paper (restrike), 15 1/2 x 20 in. Gift of Grant and Virginia D. Green

For Käthe Kollwitz, born in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia), life would be wrought with devastation. Not only did Kollwitz’s eldest son perish in the First World War, but with the rise of Nazi Germany, the artist watched as both she and her contemporaries were barred from the art scene and ignored by the German population.

Yet despite the hardships that befell Kollwitz, her achievements were beyond plentiful.  In 1917, the artist was given a major retrospective exhibition in honor of her 50th birthday by the Paul Cassirer galleries, notable for their support of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists.  Within the next two years, the Prussian Academy of Art elected Kollwitz as the first female professor, a significant achievement considering she began her career with lessons from local artists, as many professional institutions had prohibited women from attending.

The Downtrodden, 1900; Etching and aquatint on paper, 12 1/8 x 9 3/4 in. Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay © 2002 Artists Rights Society (ARS)/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

The Downtrodden, 1900; Etching and aquatint on paper, 12 1/8 x 9 3/4 in. Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay © 2002 Artists Rights Society (ARS)/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Not only was Kollwitz a supporter of Socialism, but she often provided her artistic talents to many feminist programs throughout the 1920s.  The loss of a child to the Great War, and later a grandchild to World War II, propelled Kollwitz to become involved in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, an active women’s organization dedicated to peace, disarmament, and international cooperation.  However, her activism in groups like these, and her participation in the homosexual rights movement, would provide the Third Reich with enough ammunition to keep her later career suppressed from the public.

The Third Reich saw the expressionist depictions of the home front, of mothers and children in particular, as unsupportive of the endeavors of women to strengthen the Aryan population.  Often working in lithograph, a technique considered primitive by Nazi-supported artists, Kollwitz showed her defiance by portraying women as refusing to give their children over to the state and over to the war effort; her depiction of the maternal evoked a greater moral responsibility for the prevention of the slaughter of the young.

NMWA’s collection includes several works by Kollwitz, as well as Rest in the Peace of his Hands, c. 1936, a bronze cast currently on view.

For more on Käthe Kollwitz, including information on her biography, visit:  http://nmwa.org/clara/search_artist_detail.asp?artist_id=21835&search=alpha

Self Portrait, 1921; Etching on paper, 8 1/2 x 10 1/2 in. Museum purchase: Members' Acquisition Fund © 2002 Artists Rights Society (ARS)/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Self Portrait, 1921; Etching on paper, 8 1/2 x 10 1/2 in. Museum purchase: Members' Acquisition Fund © 2002 Artists Rights Society (ARS)/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

About the Artist Spotlight author: Jackie Witkowski will be a senior at DePaul University in Chicago, majoring in Art History.  She is interning for the Education Department and the Library and Research Center for NMWA this summer.