Sunday, September 9, 2007

Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945)

While I drew, and wept along with the terrified children I was drawing, I really felt the burden I am bearing. I felt that I have no right to withdraw from the responsibility of being an advocate.


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Powerpoint: The Road to Expressionism
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One of the most influential and famous German printmakers of the twentieth century, Kathe Kollwitz starkly depicted the plight of the poor and denounced the atrocities of war. Working at a time when many artists used their art to investigate formal problems, Kollwitz devoted herself to describing the human condition. She declined the use of color, letting her vigorously clear and articulate line express urgency and social purpose, and her simplification of form and the absence of extraneous detail contribute to the power of her work.

Kathe Schmidt Kollwitz was born to a large family in East Prussia which valued freedom, mutual respect, social activism, and spiritual dedication. Kollwitz recalled that "from my childhood on, my father had expressly wished me to be trained for a career as an artist, and he was sure there would be no great obstacles to my becoming one."(1)

She began formal training at age fourteen under the engraver Rudolf Mauer, and, at seventeen she moved to Berlin where she enrolled in the School for Women Artists. While a student in Berlin, Kollwitz's teacher encouraged her to seek out the work of Max Klinger. She went to see Klinger's series of etchings A Life at an exhibit which "excited me tremendously."(2) Captivated by Klinger's work and deeply influenced by the writings of Émile Zola, Kollwitz turned to etching and lithography to depict social issues. Her marriage in 1891 to physician Karl Kollwitz, and his medical practice in a poor, working class section of Berlin further exposed her to a wide range of suffering and tragedy which would become the subject of her work over the next fifty years.

Kollwitz's Self-Portrait in the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, is one of many the artist executed throughout her career. At the time she produced this work, Kollwitz was fifty-four years old and living in a Germany suffering from the aftermath of World War I. A far cry from the portrayals of herself as an intense and vivacious young woman, in this work Kollwitz depicts herself as aged and weary, her face etched with anguish and suffering. The work was acquired with funds provided by NMWA's members.

1. Hans Kollwitz, ed. The Diary and Letters of Kaethe Kollwitz (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988), 37.

2. Kollwitz, The Diary, 39. [Adapted from National Museum of Women in the Arts]

Books from Alibris: Kathe Kollwitz

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