Käthe Kollwitz. Woman with Dead Child (Frau mit totem Kind). 1903

Käthe Kollwitz Woman with Dead Child (Frau mit totem Kind) 1903

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 504 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

Kollwitz wrote, “I want to have an effect on my time, in which human beings are so confused and in need of help.” The wrenching subject of Woman with Dead Child is related to her experiences with families treated by her husband, a physician in an underserved sector of Berlin where disease and childhood mortality were commonplace. Using herself and her seven-year-old son as models, she developed a dense network of fine lines and shadowy textures to dramatize the theme of a mother grieving the death of her child.

Gallery label from 2021
Additional text

In the early decades of the twentieth century, when modern art became virtually synonymous with colorful abstract painting by artists who were predominantly male, Kollwitz achieved unlikely renown for her figurative, black-and-white prints focusing on the hardships of the working class. Her life spanned a period of wrenching upheavals, from the social ills of industrialization through the traumas of two world wars, and women mourning or protecting children became one of her major themes. Woman with Dead Child, for example, is a particularly devastating expression of the primal maternal bond and the universality of human grief.

Kollwitz used herself and her seven-year-old son as the models for this image, a variation on the Christian pietà in which the Virgin Mary is depicted cradling the dead Christ’s body. But the raw, almost animalistic anguish on the mother’s face and the abject posture of her naked body depart from the beatific serenity of that tradition and anticipate instead the anxious distortions of German Expressionism. Kollwitz’s preoccupation with this subject was fueled in part by her marriage to a physician who served impoverished families in Berlin, where childhood mortality was often a stark reality. The artist developed a dense network of fine lines to create dramatic shadows and highlights, and she experimented with sandpaper to impart rough textures to the surface of the metal printing plate.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Etching with chine collé
composition: 16 1/4 × 18 9/16" (41.2 × 47.1 cm); sheet: 21 7/16 × 27 11/16" (54.5 × 70.3 cm)
Otto Felsing, Berlin
one of 8 known proofs (printed in 1903), before the edition of 50 (published in 1918)
Acquired through the generosity of the Contemporary Drawing and Print Associates
Object number
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Drawings and Prints

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].