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Karl Kollwitz was born in the village of Rudau on 13th July, 1863. He became an orphan early in life and went to live with a family in Königsberg. As a young man he joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
In 1881 he met Käthe Schmidt. Her father was also an active member of the SDP. Like her father he was passionately interested in politics and introduced her to the writings of August Bebel.
This included his pioneering work, Woman and Socialism (1879). In the book Bebel argued that it was the goal of socialists "not only to achieve equality of men and women under the present social order, which constitutes the sole aim of the bourgeois women's movement, but to go far beyond this and to remove all barriers that make one human being dependent upon another, which includes the dependence of one sex upon another."
Karl Kollwitz became a medical student and in 1884 he asked Käthe to marry him. Her agreement to his proposal upset her father, Karl Schmidt, who feared that marriage would inhibit her artistic career. He arranged for her to study at the Berlin School for Women Artists, where she studied under Karl Stauffer-Bern.
In 1891 Karl qualified as a doctor and obtained a position in a working-class area of Berlin. In a response to the growing support of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Otto von Bismarck had introduced the first European system of health insurance in which accident, sickness, and old age expenses of the workers and their families were covered by a government health insurance. As a socialist, Karl wanted to serve the poor and this new legislation made this possible.
Karl now asked Käthe to marry him. Käthe recorded in her journal how disappointed her father had been by the news: "He had expected a much faster completion of my studies, and then exhibitions and success. Moreover, as I have mentioned, he was very skeptical about my intention to follow two careers, that of artist and wife." Shortly before her wedding on 13th June, 1891, her father told her, "You have made your choice now. You will scarcely be able to do both things. So be wholly what you have chosen to be."
The couple moved to an apartment on 25 Weissenburger Strasse, on the corner of Wörther Platz. At first, Karl attracted very few patients. Käthe recorded: "We often stood at the window or on the tiny corner balcony, watching the passersby in the street below, hoping that one or other of them would find his way into the waiting-room." Next to Karl's office on the second floor was Käthe studio. It was a completely plain room as she liked to work without any visual distractions.
In May, 1892, Käthe Kollwitz gave birth to her first child, a son, they called Hans. She soon began to use her son as a model. In his first few months she did eighteen drawings of him. Karl kept his promise and "did everything possible so that I would have time to work". As soon as they could afford it, a live-in housekeeper was hired to help her with her child-rearing duties.
In 1896 Käthe Kollwitz gave birth to her second son, Peter. She later explained that this "wretchedly limited" her "working time". However, her work did not suffer: "I was more productive because I was more sensual, I lived as a human being must live, passionately interested in everything."
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28th June, 1914, triggered off the First World War. Käthe's two sons, Hans and Peter, immediately joined the German Army. She wrote in her journal on 30th September, 1914: "Nothing is real but the frightfulness of this state, which we almost grow used to. In such times it seems so stupid that the boys must go to war. The whole thing is so ghastly and insane. Occasionally there comes that foolish thought: how can they possibly take part in such madness? And at once the cold shower: they must, must!"
On 23rd October, 1914, Peter Kollwitz was killed at Dixmuide in Belgium on the Western Front. She wrote in her diary: "My Peter, I intend to try to be faithful.... What does that mean? To love my country in my own way as you loved it in your way. And to make this love work. To look at the young people and be faithful to them. Besides that I shall do my work, the same work, my child, which you were denied. I want to honor God in my work, too, which means I want to be honest, true, and sincere.... When I try to be like that, dear Peter, I ask you then to be around me, help me, show yourself to me. I know you are there, but I see you only vaguely, as if you were shrouded in mist. Stay with me.... my love is different from the one which cries and worries and yearns.... But I pray that I can feel you so close to me that I will be able to make your spirit."
Käthe Kollwitz found it difficult to use her art to deal with her grief. She wrote in her journal: "Stagnation in my work... When it comes back (the grief) I feel it stripping me physically of all the strength I need for work. Make a drawing: the mother letting her dead son slide into her arms. I might make a hundred such drawings and yet I do not get any closer to him. I am seeking him. As if I had to find him in the work... For work, one must be hard and thrust outside one-self what one has lived through. As soon as I begin to do that, I again feel myself a mother who will not give up her sorrow. Sometimes it all becomes so terribly difficult."
On 13th June, 1916, Käthe had been married to Karl for twenty-five years. In her journal she wrote: "I have never been without your love, and because of it we are now so firmly linked after twenty-five years. Karl, my dear, thank you. I have so rarely told you in words what you have been and are to me. Today I want to do so, this once. I thank you for all you have given me out of your love and kindness. The tree of our marriage has grown slowly, somewhat crookedly, often with difficulty. But it has not perished. The slender seedling has become a tree after all, and it is healthy at the core. It bore two lovely, supremely beautiful fruits."
The Spartakist Rising began in Berlin. Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Social Democratic Party and Germany's new chancellor, called in the German Army and the Freikorps to bring an end to the rebellion. By 13th January, 1919 the rebellion had been crushed and most of its leaders were arrested. This included Luxemburg who was arrested with Karl Liebknecht and Wilhelm Pieck on 16th January. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were murdered while being taken to the prison.
On the morning of the funeral Kollwitz visited the Liebknecht home to offer sympathy to the family. At their request, she made drawings of him in his coffin. She noted that there were red flowers around his forehead, where he had been shot. She wrote in her journal: "I am trying the Liebknecht drawing as a lithograph... Lithography now seems to be the only technique I can still manage. It's hardly a technique at all, its so simple. In it only the essentials count." However, she changed her mind and it became a woodcut.
The Karl Liebknecht woodcut was attacked by the German Communist Party (KPD) because it had not been produced by a member of the party. Kollwitz wrote in her journal: "As an artist who moreover is a woman cannot be expected to unravel these crazily complicated relationships. As an artist I have the right to extract the emotional content out of everything, to let things work upon me and then give them outward form. And so I also have the right to portray the working class's farewell to Liebknecht, and even dedicate it to the workers, without following Liebknecht politically."
On the death of Peter Kollwitz during the First World War, Käthe attempted to create a memorial to her son. Every attempt she made ended in failure. Eventually she decided to make two sculptures, The Mother and The Father. She was given permission to place them in the cemetery where he was buried.
In June, 1926, Karl and Käthe visited the cemetery in Dixmuide in Belgium, to decide where they were to be placed. She later recalled: "The cemetery is close to the highway.... The entrance is nothing but an opening in the hedge that surrounds the entire field. It was blocked by barbed wire which a friendly young man bent aside for us; then he left us alone. What an impression: cross upon cross.... on most of the graves there were low, yellow wooden crosses. A small metal plaque in the center gives the name and number. So we found our grave.... We cut three tiny roses from a flowering wild briar and placed them on the ground beside the cross. All that is left of him lies there in a row-grave. None of the mounds are separated; there are only the same little crosses placed quite close together.... and almost everywhere is the naked, yellow soil.... at least half the graves bear the inscription unknown German... We considered where my figures might be placed... What we both thought best was to have the figures just across from the entrance, along the hedge.... Then the kneeling figures would have the whole cemetery before them."
The memorial to her son was not finished until 1931. It went on display at the Prussian Academy of Arts until being moved to Belgium: "For years I worked on them in utter silence, showed them to no one, scarcely even to Karl and Hans; and now I am opening the doors wide so that as many people as possible may see them. A big step which troubles and excites me; but it has also made me very happy because of the unanimous acclaim of my fellow artists." Otto Nagel described the memorial as the "artistic sensation of the day".
Karl and Käthe Kollwitz helped organise a public manifesto calling for unity between the Social Democrat Party and the German Communist Party in order to combat to rise of fascism. Adolf Hitler responded by demanding that Kollwitz and Heinrich Mann, another organiser of the manifesto, should resign from the Prussian Academy of Arts. Kollwitz wrote to her friend, Emma Jeep: "Has the Academy affair reached your ears yet? That Heinrich Mann and I, because we signed the manifesto calling for unity of the parties of the left, must leave the Academy. It was all terribly unpleasant for the Academy directors. For fourteen years... I have worked together peacefully with these people. Now the Academy directors have had to ask me to resign. Otherwise the Nazis had threatened to break up the Academy. Naturally I complied. So did Heinrich Mann. Municipal Architect Wagner also resigned, in sympathy."
The Nazi government also banned Karl Kollwitz from working as a doctor in Berlin. Eric Cohn, a wealthy art collector in the United States, purchased some of her sculptures that enabled the couple to buy enough food to survive. Cohen also offered to help the couple to take refuge in the United States, but they refused as they did not want to be separated from their family.
Karl Kollwitz, who had an unsuccessful eye operation for cataracts, became increasing weak and by the outbreak of the Second World War he was completely bedridden. Käthe, who had to use a cane for walking, became his constant nurse and companion. He died in Berlin on 19th July, 1940.
Karl Kollwitz (Johannes Carl August Kollwitz * 13. Juni 1863 in Rudau (seit 1945 Melnikowo), Kreis Fischhausen in Ostpreußen † 19. Juli 1940 in Berlin) war ein Berliner Armenarzt, SPD-Stadtverordneter und Ehemann der Malerin und Bildhauerin Käthe Kollwitz.
Käthe Kollwitz, née Schmidt (German pronunciation: [kɛːtə kɔlvɪt͡s]), (8 July 1867 – 22 April 1945) was a German artist, who worked with painting, printmaking (including etching, lithography and woodcuts) and sculpture. Her most famous art cycles, including The Weavers and The Peasant War, depict the effects of poverty, hunger, and war on the working class. Despite the realism of her early works, her art is now more closely associated with Expressionism. Kollwitz was the first woman elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts.
Kollwitz was born in Königsberg, Prussia, the fifth child in her family. Her father, Karl Schmidt, was a radical Social democrat who became a mason and house builder. Her mother, Katherina Schmidt, was the daughter of Julius Rupp, a Lutheran pastor who was expelled from the official Evangelical State Church and founded an independent congregation. Her education was greatly influenced by her grandfather's lessons in religion and socialism.
Recognizing her talent, Kollwitz's father arranged for her to begin lessons in drawing and copying plaster casts when she was twelve. At sixteen she began making drawings of working people, the sailors and peasants she saw in her father's offices. Wishing to continue her studies at a time when no colleges or academies were open to young women, Kollwitz enrolled in an art school for women in Berlin. There she studied with Karl Stauffer-Bern, a friend of the artist Max Klinger. The etchings of Klinger, their technique and social concerns, were an inspiration to Kollwitz.
At the age of seventeen, Kollwitz became engaged to Karl Kollwitz, a medical student. In 1888, she went to Munich to study at the Women's Art School, where she realized her strength was not as a painter, but a draughtsman. In 1890, she returned to Königsberg, rented her first studio, and continued to draw pained labourers working.
In 1891, Kollwitz married Karl, by this time a doctor, who tended to the poor in Berlin, where the couple moved into the large apartment that would be Kollwitz's home until it was destroyed in World War II. The proximity of her husband's practice proved invaluable:
It is believed Kollwitz suffered anxiety during her childhood due to the death of her siblings, including the early death of her younger brother, Benjamin. More recent research suggests that Kollwitz may have suffered from a childhood neurological disorder called Alice in Wonderland syndrome, commonly associated with migraines and sensory hallucinations.
Between the births of her sons – Hans in 1892 and Peter in 1896 – Kollwitz saw a performance of Gerhart Hauptmann's The Weavers, which dramatized the oppression of the Silesian weavers in Langenbielau and their failed revolt in 1844. Inspired, the artist ceased work on a series of etchings she had intended to illustrate Émile Zola's Germinal, and produced a cycle of six works on the weavers theme, three lithographs (Poverty, Death, and Conspiracy) and three etchings with aquatint and sandpaper (March of the Weavers, Riot, and The End). Not a literal illustration of the drama, the works were a free and naturalistic expression of the workers' misery, hope, courage, and eventually, doom.
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Karl Kollwitz - History
The seated figure of an elderly woman cast in bronze presides over a square in a part of north east Berlin known as Kollwitzkiez, the ‘Kollwitz district’, where Käthe Schmidt (1867-1945) came to live in 1891 on her marriage to Dr Karl Kollwitz. The sculpture by Gustav Seitz, installed in 1960, was commissioned under the DDR (German Democratic Republic) just as the renaming of Wörtherplatz and Weissenburger Strasse had been done in her honour in 1947. The nearest U-Bahn station is Senefelderplatz opened in 1923 and named after another notable figure in the history of printmaking, Alois Senefelder, who is credited with the discovery of lithography in 1796.
Statue of Käthe Kollwitz, Kollwitzplatz, Berlin. Photo by Rae Allen, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
When I stayed on Kollwitzstraße in the summer of 2009, the formerly bohemian neighbourhood of the 1990s after Die Wende (‘The Change’, i.e. including the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification) was fast shedding its down-at-heel appearance. All the familiar signs of rising property values and gentrification were plain to see, much more so now: handsome, well-buffed apartment buildings, smart shops, cafés such as Anne Blume (called after Kurt Schwitters’s subversive poem of 1919), and nearby parks and playgrounds with brightly coloured equipment for children. TripAdvisor waxes lyrical about the area as a tourist destination.
Käthe Kollwitz, Selbstbildnis nach links (Self-portrait facing left), 1901, lithograph, 26.9 x 20.4 cm, British Museum 1951,0501.81, (© DACS, 2014)
It is a far cry from the surroundings where Käthe and Karl (d.1940) were to spend almost the whole of their adult lives. Prenzlauer Berg, the larger district in which Kollwitzkiez is situated, was developed as a working-class neighbourhood to cope with the great surge in population after 1871 when Berlin became the capital of a united Germany by 1900 the population had grown from around 800,000 to 1.9 million. Street after street of Mietskasernen or tenements (literally ‘rental barracks’) were built where conditions were dire. The Frauenkunstverband (Organisation of Women Artists), co-founded by Käthe Kollwitz in 1913, protested that 600,000 Berliners lived in dwellings with five or more people to a room while 100,000 children had nowhere to play. The title of the polemic by Werner Hegemann published in 1930, Das steinerne Berlin: Geschichte der grössten Mietskasernenstadt der Welt (Stony Berlin: History of the Largest Tenement City in the World) captures the impact of this remorseless urbanization. Prenzlauer Berg was dominated by these tenements and the breweries that were the major employers.
Käthe Kollwitz, Arbeitslosigkeit (Unemployment) 1909, 6th state, etching and engraving 382 x 530 mm. © DACS 2014 (1949,0411.3945)
Kollwitz was rooted in the nineteenth century, drawing much of her inspiration from the narrative realism and emotive power of writers such as Dickens, Ibsen and Zola. She grafted her reading of fiction, whether it dealt with near contemporary circumstances or ostensibly historical ones, onto the direct experience of ‘the lives of others’ who were beset by the uncertainties of casual employment, deprivation, high maternal and child mortality, and often domestic violence. In this challenging environment she found a beauty and a grandeur that became her mainspring as an artist. It was a largely black-and-white world, but with many gradations of tone and texture. For the realization of its expressive potential she turned to drawing and printmaking, above all to the example of Max Klinger (1857-1920) and his championing of graphic art as having an important status of its own. His series of ten etchings and aquatints called Dramen, Opus IX (1883) comprised six tragedies set in Berlin among the different echelons of society. Two dramas – Eine Mutter (A Mother) and Märztage (March Days) – unfold over three plates each, while the other four have just a single sheet apiece. Märztage seemed to refer to the failed liberal revolution of March 1848, but Klinger made it clear that he had in mind the contemporary context of Germany’s Social Democratic movement in 1883.
Max Klinger, Eine Mutter I (A Mother I), Dramen, Opus IX 1883, etching and aquatint, 453 x 318 mm (1981,1107.23)
Max Klinger, Mârztage I (March Days I), Dramen, Opus IX 1883, etching and aquatint, 453 x 358 mm (1981,1107.28)
Käthe Kollwitz was similarly inspired by Gerhart Hauptmann’s play Die Weber (The Weavers, 1892), which she saw at its first performance in 1893, to create a print series that was more about the conditions of the poor around her, than Silesia in 1844. Her second graphic cycle Der Bauernkrieg (Peasants’ War) executed from 1902-7 and published the year after, used the religious and economic conflict of 1524-5 as yet another vehicle through which to express the heroism of the working class. This series along with her later work after the First World War in woodcut and lithography, earned her significant influence on the development of printmaking in Russia and China in the 1920s-40s and beyond.
Within a few years of commencing printmaking in 1890-91 Käthe Kollwitz had demonstrated considerable artistry and technical competence. Ein Weberaufstand (A Weavers’ Revolt) – three etchings and three lithographs completed in 1897 – propelled her to the front rank of artists in Germany. When she went to Paris in 1904 she was given a glowing testimonial for Rodin from Hugo von Tschudi, Director of the Berlin Nationalgalerie. Her greatest champion was Max Lehrs, Director of the Dresden Print Room who both acquired her work for the collection and published the first catalogue of her prints in 1902. He likewise encouraged a curator, later Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, Campbell Dodgson (1867-1948). Dodgson bequeathed to the British Museum (which was not then permitted to buy the work of living artists) a remarkably fine body of impressions from the most innovative phase of Kollwitz’s career: none more so than a sequence of three states of the harrowing subject of Frau mit totem Kind (Woman with dead Child) of 1903, which shows Kollwitz’s mastery in every aspect of its accomplishment. The artist and her younger son Peter (b.1896) were the models at a time when her elder son Hans (b.1892) had narrowly escaped dying of diphtheria. The sculptural quality of her treatment of the motif anticipates her later interest in working with a three-dimensional medium which was one of her objects of study in Paris.
Käthe Kollwitz, Frau mit totem Kind (Woman with dead child) 1903, 7th state, soft-ground etching and engraving with green and gold wash, 415 x 480 mm. © DACS 2014 (1949,0411.3928)
Frau mit totem Kind has none of the resignation of her later sculpture (1937) of a mother and her dead son, ‘something like a Piéta’, of which the artist said ‘There is no longer pain, only reflection.’ In the 1903 print there is only pain, but however much she drew upon personal experience and observation, it is nonetheless a carefully contrived artistic composition.
Käthe Kollwitz, Selbstbildnis (Self-portrait) 1924, 6th state, woodcut, 209 x 301 mm © DACS, 2014 (1980,0126.85)
Kollwitz’s most unwavering commitment was to being an artist: ‘It alone is always stimulating, rejuvenating, exciting and satisfying.’ (New Year’s Day, 1912). Her intensely examined life as expressed in all her work, not just the many self-portraits, her journals and correspondence, is humbling to recall amidst the middle-class comforts of modern Kollwitzkiez. I admire her because she succeeded in doing what a great contemporary artist has advocated: ‘I thought women as artists should focus on how to start, lead, and sustain a creative life. It’s not a question of style or a break with tradition.’ (Bridget Riley, 2004).
The exhibition Germany: memories of a nation is at the British Museum from 16 October 2014 to 25 January 2015. Sponsored by Betsy and Jack Ryan, with support from Salomon Oppenheimer Philanthropic Foundation. Accompanying the exhibition is a 30-part BBC Radio 4 series written and presented by Neil MacGregor. In the episode Kathe Kollwitz: Suffering Witness, Neil MacGregor focuses on the art of Käthe Kollwitz, who expresses the loss and suffering of war, especially after the death of her younger son Peter at the front in 1914.
Käthe Kollwitz, Self-Portrait, 1921 © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Raised in a politically progressive middle-class family, Kollwitz enjoyed family support for her artistic ambitions. When she became engaged to a medical student in 1889, her father even sent her to study in Munich to persuade her to choose art over marriage. Following graduation, she returned to Berlin to marry her fiancé Karl Kollwitz in 1891.
Though Kollwitz studied both painting and printmaking, she turned exclusively to the print in the early 1890s. Influenced by fellow German artist Max Klinger, she saw the potential of the print for social commentary. Prints could be reproduced inexpensively and in multiples, allowing her to reach more people.
For the next 50 years she produced dramatic, emotion-filled etchings, woodcuts, and lithographs—generally in black and white but sometimes including touches of color. Initially, her husband’s working-class patients proved worthy models and subjects. Beginning in the teens, Kollwitz’s subject matter came to reflect her experience as a witness to both World Wars. She was devastated by the suffering and loss of human life, including the loss of a son in the first war and a grandson in the second.
Although Kollwitz’s wrenching subjects and virtuoso technique soon made her work popular throughout Germany and the Western world, they also generated controversy. In 1933, the Nazi government forced her to resign her position as the first female professor appointed to the Prussian Academy (in 1919) soon thereafter she was forbidden to exhibit her art.
During her final years, Kollwitz produced bronze and stone sculpture embodying the same types of subjects and aesthetic values as her work in two dimensions. Much of her art was destroyed in a Berlin air raid in 1943. Soon thereafter, Kollwitz evacuated to Moritzburg, a town just outside Dresden, where she died two years later.
German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse Mar 27–Jul 11, 2011 5 other works identified
German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse Mar 27–Jul 11, 2011 6 other works identified
German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse Mar 27–Jul 11, 2011 13 other works identified
German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse Mar 27–Jul 11, 2011
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Käthe Kollwitz Artworks
Kollwitz's aesthetic response to Gerhart Hauptmann's play about the 1844 German weavers' rebellion resulted in the series The Weavers' Rebellion, an intimate reflection of the artist's valuation of and affection for the working classes. Biographer Martha Kearns notes that the series is unique for its depiction of working class people "initiat[ing], execut[ing], and suffer[ing] the fate of their own uprising" and for its presentation of women as active participants in a violent confrontation. Critically, departing from Hauptmann's play, Kollwitz began her series with Misery, a scene showing the death of a child from the deprivations of poverty, which situated her illustration of the weavers' rebellion as a direct reaction to a life cut short by low wages and inhumane living conditions.
Hopelessness and grief drive Misery's narrative. The print's focal point is the deceased child's bedside, with his mother, beset with sorrow, kneeling beside him, her head in her hands with despair. The child is small, almost skeletal, and bathed in an angelic, bright white light which lightens the dark, wretched room and illuminates the mother's arms. With this choice, Kollwitz illustrates the child's status as an innocent victim, a casualty in the oppressive workers' conditions which prevented survival. The unnaturally grim darkness of the interior, where the bright sunlight stops at the window and only the glow from the child creates any brightness, reveals a large loom and the child's father holding a sibling. The father's eyes are downcast, but the sibling looks directly at the loom, signifying the cause of the family's misery.
Upon starting the series, Kollwitz realized her lack of extensive etching training, and she noted that she "had so little technique that my first attempts [at the series] were failures." She then reverted to lithographic technique to make the first three prints and finished the remainder as etchings, which she perfected with a combination of drypoint, acquatint, tusche wash, and soft ground processes. This series represented a melding of mediums unconventional for a print series at the time. When it was first shown at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition in 1898, it would have earned the gold medal prize, had it not been for Emperor Wilhelm II's declaration of the series as "gutter art." She would, however, win the gold medal for this series the following year.
Lithograph on yellow-brown chine collé mounted on thick white wove paper - Smith College Museum of Art
Kollwitz was taken with the notion of female revolutionaries and was fascinated with the story of "Black Anna," the instigator of a 16th-century, widespread peasant rebellion. In preparatory drawings for The Peasants' War (Bauernkrieg) series, which illustrated the historic revolt, the artist even used her own likeness as a model for Anna. Outbreak, one of the original prints Kollwitz and the 5th plate conceived for the series, depicts Black Anna as a lone woman, inciting the peasants to defend themselves and their families.
It is, in many ways, a progressive reimagining of female agency in revolutionary times. Viewers are reminded of Eugène Delacroix's 1830 Liberty Leading the People in which the personification of liberty is a woman who leads men and boys of various social classes onwards towards freedom, stepping over the bodies of those who sacrificed themselves to the cause. Yet, Delacroix's woman is an idealized type who leads with her sexuality and maternity her breasts are inexplicably bared and centralized in the composition, and her profile is of a classicized prettiness. In Outbreak, Kollwitz, in contrast, maintains the female peasant's agency. Black Anna's back is to the viewer, as the woman's focus is on the peasants making the charge, rather than on the need to display herself. She is dressed identifiably as a peasant, and she projects strength, solidity, and righteous anger through her frame and her raised, bent arms and clenched fists. Her body tilts, guiding the rebels onwards. Naturalism here is subverted to the emotional cadence of print, with frenetic lines and low, elongated, diagonally oriented bodies underscoring the rush, energy, and collective drive of the peasants in their uprising.
This work, upon submission to the Association for Historical Art, led to the Association commissioning Kollwitz to create an extended print series based on the Peasant War, and she subsequently added six additional etchings to create a total of seven prints on the subject.
Line etching, drypoint, aquatint, reservage, soft-ground etching with impressions from two types of fabric and Ziegler transfer paper - Smith College Museum of Art
Kollwitz dedicated herself to documenting and therefore bringing awareness to all manner of social ills and particularly to their consequences within the domestic sphere. In Unemployment, the artist depicts a distraught man in the lower left foreground, his body shadowed and his features sharply delineated with close, black lines and cross-hatching. We see his eyes widened and his brow furrowed in worry as he sits by the bedside of his wife and three sleeping children, contemplating his inability to provide for them. For this family, the distance between sleep and death in impoverishment is visibly slight. Kollwitz rendered the woman and her children bathed in an angelic light, their forms ill-defined but seemingly physically interconnected. The mother, between sleep and wakefulness, indicates her knowledge of their dire situation, as her face, in contrast to her body and those of her children, is darkly shadowed and her eyes hooded.
The artist also calls attention to the mother's hands cradling her child's head to illustrate the promise of eternal maternal protection that circumstances may not allow her to give. In here and in other images, Kollwitz's emphasis on the beauty of her subjects' hands can be traced to fond memories of her beloved maternal grandfather, the radical preacher Julius Rupp, who the artist recalled had "very beautiful" hands, and her own mother's similarly beautiful hands.
Etching and aquatint on paper - Smith College Museum of Art
Memorial for Karl Liebknecht
In 1919, Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht, co-founders of the Marxist anti-war Spartacus League, were summarily executed for their connection to the January 1919 Spartacist uprising. Kollwitz, who was aligned with the politics of Marxist circles, visited the Liebknecht home on the morning of the funeral she offered her personal condolences and, at the request of the family, made drawings of the slain leader. She initially began her image of Liebknecht as a lithograph but later completed it as her first woodcut print.
Kollwitz's homage to Liebknecht is as much a tribute to the man as it is a statement about the immortality of his ideas and actions. The subject of the woodcut is Liebknecht's memorial, where the artist depicts him lying in state with mourners coming to pay their respects. The composition is arranged as an interplay between rigid horizontality and tilting arcs. At the bottom center of the woodcut, Liebnecht's body is rendered as a stiff, stone horizontal slab, which parallels the horizontal edge of the paper.
Though he is nominally the subject of the print, Liebknecht's body occupies merely the lowest fifth of the image the woodcut's energy and primary subject are, in actuality, the mourning group, which occupies most of the composition. The mourners are male workers of varying ages, with a woman and child prominently in the foreground. Kollwitz organized the crowd along an arc, each figure's head and torso slightly bowed towards Liebknecht in respect. Liebknecht's horizontal form is eternally inert. In contrast, Liebknecht's mourning followers are dynamically rendered, both through the curved orientation of their bodies and through the faces' individuality, each person differently reacting to their leader's death. The woman and child literalize the future generations who benefit from Liebknecht's ideology, and the man in the foreground, his head bowed and his overemphasized hand prominently resting on Liebknecht's chest, illustrate the work and the physicality of engagement necessary to continue Liebknecht's ideological fight.
Some members of the German Communist Party objected to Kollwitz's woodcut, however, on the grounds that Kollwitz herself, though a committed radical in her political leanings, was not an official member of the party.
Woodcut on paper - Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum
The Mothers (Mütter)
While not included in the final series War, Kollwitz created The Mothers as she attempted to shift from woodcuts to lithographs for the series. She completed this lithograph on her deceased son Peter's birthday, and a self-portrait of Kollwitz as a mother, embracing her sons Hans and Peter as small children, dominates the foreground.
The theme of mothers occupied the artist's work, from her early social justice imagery to her explorations of war, grief, and the less visible consequences of conflict. Here, Kollwitz illustrated the predicament and psychological toll of sons enlisting or being drafted into war on the mothers they left behind. The woman on the print's left covers her face with her hands, bereft and in emotional agony at the loss of her son. The two women on either side of Kollwitz's self-portrait clutch their children in fear and enfold them in their arms with their prominent, strong hands, these mothers shield their babies and young children from their uncertain future and the awaiting threat of eternal separation. Kollwitz and her sons in the foreground represent the limits of a mother's protection. By 1919, her older son Hans was an adult, and Peter had perished in the First World War in 1914. The children she embraces are therefore the memories of her sons as youths. This interpretation suggests that while the strength of the artist's arms around her offspring illustrate the intensity of a mother's desire to protect her children, in the face of war's unpredictability along with adolescent and adult independence, all a mother can ultimately protect, and all she may be left with, is her memories of them.
Lithograph - Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia
The Volunteers (Die Freiwilligen)
In this second plate from her War (Krieg) series, Kollwitz captures at once the energetic spirit of youth - with young boys, consumed with patriotism and a sense of a higher purpose, volunteering for battle - and the future consequences of those decisions. With the woodcut's thick, graphic style, Kollwitz shies away from detail and instead creates a pared-down composition that emphasizes figural movement. The volunteering soldiers are aligned in a curve, buoyed upwards from the bottom right to the top left of the image as if propelled by the powerful force of their convictions. With the exception of the central figure, the boys look up toward the light, their mouths open in song, their hands and arms clasped around each other in collective solidarity. The boy in the top left beats a drum to lead his fellow soldiers onward and into the conflict with soaring spirits.
Yet, Kollwitz foreshadows the horrors which await these innocent young men. The thick, graphic strokes of the woodcut hollow out the boys' faces, presciently evoking the skeletons they will become, while the drummer, whose call to join the war beats louder than all, has already transformed into the specter of death, his pointed finger indicating the future of the wide-eyed comrade encircled in his arm. On the image's right, the open mouths of two boys in song become the mouth agape in a scream of terror in a third. The central figure, his face aglow with the light of optimism, volunteers for war with his eyes shut he refuses to see, or cannot see, the danger into which he marches. In choosing to place this boy at the print's center, the artist indicates that part of war's tragedy is the innocence of the idealistic young men who voluntarily gave up their lives for what they believed to be a greater cause, without seeing or being able to see the senselessness of their sacrifice.
In the second state of this print, Kollwitz identified each of the soldiers by name as her son Peter's friends, who were also killed during the First World War. In curator Henriëtte Kets de Vries' words, Kollwitz wanted to ascribe "universal importance" to Peter's death, and, from then on, her own "personal loss. came to be intimately intertwined with. public causes" that she promoted. Like her contemporary Otto Dix, who explored his experience as a soldier with his 1924 print series Der Krieg, and her inspiration, Francisco Goya, with his 1810-20 The Disasters of War print series, Kollwitz critiqued war from the vantage point of her own experience. In War, she chose to emphasize the emotional, psychological, and personal consequences of conflict on those who participated and on those left behind, rather than the horrors of battle itself.
Woodcut on paper - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Parents (Die Eltern)
Unlike her previous two series, the Weavers and The Peasant War, Kollwitz's War cycle was, in biographer Martha Kearns' words, "wrested from Kollwitz' own life." The series of seven prints thus represented an "impassioned protest against the gross senselessness of war" and "a woman's outrage" at the consequences. War was a statement of her full-throated embrace of pacifist views. Curator Henriëtte Kets de Vries notes that in this series, unlike in her previous prints, raised arms were not used "to incite a revolutionary crowd, or used as omens of approaching death" but have instead "been recast in the aesthetic language of reassigned Renaissance iconography to serve as protective haven or to cover one's grief." In The Parents, Kollwitz described her desire to represent the "totality of grief."
The origin of this image dates to 1914 when the artist began preliminary sketches for a memorial to her son Peter. This lithographic version of the third print in War dates to early 1919, and the artist evolved this idea until her final woodcut version in 1922. Curator Claire C. Whitner notes that over the course of refining this testament to parental grief, Kollwitz "carefully added detail in a piecemeal manner," slowly adding definition to the parents' clothing while simultaneously obscuring their faces to transform them from portraits to archetypes.
Consistent with her most effective graphic pieces, the artist coordinated each aspect of the composition to act in the service of embodying and illustrating powerful emotions - here, the unending, unyielding torment of parents' sadness at the loss of their child. Every facet of the parents' bodies conveys the physiological manifestation of profound grief, from the mother's completely bent form, her body limp and unable to support itself, to the father's kneeling, but slightly more erect torso he attemps to hold up his wife but is so wracked with emotion that he cannot face the world around him. The image is sparse, and the figures of the mother and father are entwined in an embrace which renders them barely distinguishable from one another. The mother and father lean into one another as each represents to the other the only other person in the world able to comprehend the significance and depth of their loss.
Woodcut on paper - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Grieving Parents
Following Peter's death in 1914, the artist went through many iterations of how best to pay tribute to her son. Kollwitz began with drawings and sculptural models of a mother with her deceased child but then later decided to focus on depictions of the grieving parents. After she made this decision, she refused to let her husband Karl see her preparatory work.
Kollwitz's memorial materialized both the collectivity and isolation of parental mourning. As with her War print of The Parents, both parents kneel, with the father erect and the mother bowed in her despair. Neither can stand, and each physically clasps the body, as if both attempt to give comfort and to steel themselves against the overpowering weight of sorrow. Kollwitz indicates that while this deep despair is shared, it remains unique to each parent. In 1924, the artist reconceptualized the memorial, creating two, separate sculptures instead of one joint memorial, and she placed a distance between each parent. The separation of the figures allows visitors to see the graves and/or cemetery - the source of parental grief - between the two. This physical separation additionally underscores that each parent mourns alone, with the depths of each parent's psychological torment unique and inaccessible to the other.
Kollwitz staged the sculptures at their original site, the Roggeveld Military Cemetery in Flanders, for maximum emotional poignancy. The sculptures were installed flanking the entrance to the cemetery in 1932, with their backs turned towards the outside world, and their gaze directed at the cemetery. Visitors to the cemetery were then led into the grounds by the parents as their guides, to see the graves, in art historian Annette Seeler's terms, "from their vantage point" as mourners. Kollwitz "imagined visitors pausing in front of the figures on their return from paying respects at a grave of a family member," so that they could "look into the faces" and "find their feelings reflected in them." The images were not solely personal but also broadly political. Unfortunately, critics of the memorial did not acknowledge Kollwitz's anti-war political intentions.
The sculptures, along with Peter's grave, were relocated to the German Veterans' War Cemetery in 1956, where the installation dramatically differed from Kollwitz's original conception no longer were the figures the back-turned guides for mourning and contemplation, leading viewers into the encounter with the dead. Copies of the sculptures were made in 1959 to honor the victims of both World Wars and again in 2014 for the Russian cemetery where Kollwitz's grandson Peter was supposedly buried as an "unknown soldier."
Stone - Originally in the Roggevelde Cemetery in Belgium, now in the Vladslo German War Cemetery
Käthe Kollwitz And Berlin‘s Neue Wache
Germany is infamous for the political turbulence it went through throughout the 20 th century. From WWI, the abolishment of the monarchy, and the rise of the Nazi party to the splitting of East and West Berlin, and to the reunification of the country in 1990, Germany’s identity was continually being reinvented. We look at the effects this had on some of the country’s art and monuments, and reveal the fascinating history of what Berlin‘s Neue Wache was made to represent throughout this dramatic century.
For the average Berlin tourist, it’s surely the city’s history which provides the main draw. Few places in the world can claim such a defining role in the progress of the twentieth century its streets tracing the often-violent transitions from imperialism to fascism, division to reunification. Yet for an increasing number of the almost one million visitors who arrive in the German capital each month, it’s the city’s art scene which is the major attraction. Against a backdrop of world-class museums and art schools, low rents and strong state support, the contemporary art scene in Berlin is flourishing, with artists and art lovers from across world travelling to the city to live, work and learn.
However, in the face of these contemporary innovations, it’s easy to forget the city’s formidable artistic tradition. Indeed perhaps the most exciting for today’s visitor are those sites where the artistic and political histories of Berlin intertwine. Few places embody this more than the Neue Wache – the ‘New Guardhouse’ – located on the city’s main East-West axis, Unter den Linden.
Sandwiched between the baroque façade of the German Historical Museum and the main building of Berlin’s Humboldt University, the Neue Wache was opened in its current form in 1993. Designed in the nineteenth century as a guardhouse for the Prussian royal family, today the building serves as the ‘Central Memorial Site’ of the German state, a place of national remembrance dedicated to the victims of war and tyranny.
Behind the building’s columned exterior, it’s a sculpture by the German artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) which provides the focal point of the memorial. Mother with her Dead Son, also known as Pietà, was completed by the artist in its original form in 1937, before being enlarged for inclusion in Neue Wache in 1993. Standing at the centre of the memorial’s stone-lined chamber, the sculpture is lit only by an unglazed, circular skylight, leaving it exposed to the best and worst of the Berlin weather.
Born in eastern Prussia in 1867, Käthe Kollwitz (pronounced ‘Kay-ta Koll-vitz’) is perhaps among the best-known, and best-loved, artists in Germany. And for many, she was the perfect choice for this memorial. On a professional level, Kollwitz dedicated her career as a graphic artist and sculptor to works opposing governmental oppression. From her 1890s series commemorating the failed 1842 revolt of the Silesian weavers, to later works commemorating the death of communist leader Karl Liebknecht and calling for an end to the First World War, Kollwitz persistently represented a thorn in the side of German imperialism, capitalism, and later, fascism. Shortly after the National Socialist takeover in 1933, she and her husband signed an ‘urgent appeal’ to left-leaning parties, pleading with them to unify in opposition to Hitler. This appeal was however unsuccessful and as a result Kollwitz’s artistic voice was gradually silenced later in 1933 she was forced to resign from her teaching position at the academy of arts, and as the 1930s progressed she was gradually prevented from exhibiting.
On a personal level too, Kollwitz’s life – like so many Germans of her generation – was scarred by war. With the outbreak of the First World War, her sons Hans and Peter volunteered for service. Not yet of age, Peter required his parents’ consent to fight, which Kollwitz and her husband duly provided. Peter was killed on 22 October 1914 just months into the conflict, a loss which Kollwitz admitted she never recovered from. She later wrote:
From the artist’s extensive diaries, we can trace Kollwitz’s earliest work on the Mother with her Dead Son sculpture to 22 October 1937. Not only was this date the anniversary of Peter’s death, but it was in 1937 that Nazi Germany first turned their full attention to cultural policy. After years of uncertainty regarding which forms of art were acceptable in the Third Reich, it was in the summer of 1937 that the first mass confiscations were organised from the country’s state museums, culminating in the July 1937 propaganda exhibition, ‘Degenerate Art’.
Yet despite this apparent fit between Kollwitz as an artist and the sentiments of the Neue Wache memorial, when plans for this memorial were announced by Germany’s then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl in January 1993, they sparked fierce debate and even hostility.
For many, the largest issue was the blatantly Christian overtones of a Pietà sculpture being used to commemorate the ‘victims of war and tyranny’. It was of course precisely because of their Judaism that so many of these victims had been targeted a sculpture which utilised New Testament imagery seemed grossly inappropriate.
For others, their concerns were artistic. In an open letter to Chancellor Kohl, the Berlin Academy of Arts argued that not only would a non-figurative design be more appropriate for such a memorial, but also that enlarging the Kollwitz sculpture to such an extent would rob it of its formal power. The original work measured just 38 x 28.5 x 39 cm and the Academy argued that Mother with her Dead Son could not withstand such a drastic enlargement.
But perhaps the greatest objections to Kohl’s plans stemmed from the history of the Neue Wache as a memorial site. The 1993 memorial would be the fourth to be housed in the building since its construction the interior had already seen some seven different configurations in less than a century. Even during its time as a military guardhouse, the Neue Wache had commemorated the Prussian soldiers of the Napoleonic wars. Following the abolition of the German monarchy in 1918, the building was transformed into a memorial to the victims of the First World War and renovated with a minimalist design by architect Heinrich Tessenow in 1931. This design was then adjusted by the National Socialists after 1933 with the inclusion of a large wooden cross. Later, falling within East Berlin, the interior was remodelled again, this time as a memorial to the victims of militarism and fascism. This new memorial, announced in 1956, was officially opened in 1960, its design once again changed by the East German government in 1969.
Kohl’s plans came less than four years after the fall of the Berlin wall, and Germany’s ultimate reunification in October 1990. In the eyes of many Germans, to yet again remodel the Neue Wache, once more allowing it to be used as ‘memorial-propaganda’ for an insecure state, seemed absurd.
In an attempt to answer at least some of these criticisms, minor changes were made to the 1993 plans as originally announced, namely the addition of two bronze plaques at the entrance of the memorial. While one sets out clearly to whom the memorial is dedicated, the other outlines the history of the monument, attempting to place the Kollwitz design in some degree of context.
The Neue Wache was once again reopened on 14 November 1993, and it now stands as the longest lasting of the building’s memorial designs. No doubt the opening of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, by architect Peter Eisenmann and unveiled in May 2005, and indeed the enduring political stability of the reunified Germany, has taken some of the critical pressure off this memorial. Nonetheless, it is fascinating to consider what changes the next century may bring to this former royal guardhouse, and to Kollwitz’s place within it.
Biography of Käthe Kollwitz
Käthe Ida Schmidt (later Kollwitz) was the fifth child of seven born to parents Katharina and Karl Schmidt. Karl trained as a lawyer, but he declined to practice due to the incongruousness of his political views with the authoritarian Prussian state. He later joined the German Social Democratic Workers Party (SPD), but ultimately worked as a stonemason and became an expert builder. Katharina grew up in a strict, radically political and religious household. Katharina and Karl equally supported the professional aspirations of their four surviving children and ensured that their daughters received every educational and training opportunity available. Käthe's later progressive values and politics were firmly rooted in her childhood.
Karl Marx’s Life in London and s Kapital”
With revolutionary uprisings engulfing Europe in 1848, Marx left Belgium just before being expelled by that country’s government. He briefly returned to Paris and Germany before settling in London, where he would live for the rest of his life, despite being denied British citizenship. He worked as a journalist there, including 10 years as a correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune, but never quite managed to earn a living wage, and was supported financially by Engels. In time, Marx became increasingly isolated from fellow London Communists, and focused more on developing his economic theories. In 1864, however, he helped found the International Workingmen’s Association (known as the First International) and wrote its inaugural address. Three years later, Marx published the first volume of pital” (Das Kapital) his masterwork of economic theory. In it he expressed a desire to reveal “the economic law of motion of modern society” and laid out his theory of capitalism as a dynamic system that contained the seeds of its own self-destruction and subsequent triumph of communism. Marx would spend the rest of his life working on manuscripts for additional volumes, but they remained unfinished at the time of his death, of pleurisy, on March 14, 1883.