Käthe Kollwitz The People (Das Volk), state VII/VII, plate 7 from War (Krieg) 1922, published 1923

  • MoMA, Floor 3, 3 South The Edward Steichen Galleries

War, Kollwitz’s third print portfolio, memorializes the anguish of those who lost sons, husbands, and fathers in World War I. Its sequence mirrors Kollwitz’s evolution from war supporter to pacifist as she coped with the death of her own son in the conflict. “[This series] is my confrontation with that part of my life, from 1914 to 1918, and these four years were difficult to reckon with,” she wrote. The first two sheets portray a mother holding her infant as if offering a sacrifice, and a band of volunteers marching ecstatically to battle. Subsequent sheets shift to parents and widows grieving their losses. One of the final sheets depicts mothers protecting children—an image of resistance against Germany's culture of military sacrifice.

Gallery label from Käthe Kollwitz, March 31–July 20, 2024
Additional text

In 1919, Käthe Kollwitz began work on Krieg (War), her response to the tragedies endured during what she called those "unspeakably difficult years" of World War I and its aftermath. The portfolio's seven woodcuts focus on the sorrows of those left behind—mothers, widows, and children. Kollwitz had struggled to find the appropriate means of expression until she saw an exhibition of Ernst Barlach's woodcuts in 1920. Revising each print through as many as nine preparatory drawings and states, Kollwitz radically simplified the compositions. The large-format, stark black-and-white woodcuts feature women left to face their grief and fears alone, with their partners, or with each other.

Only one print, Die Freiwilligen (The volunteers), shows the combatants. In it, Kollwitz's younger son, Peter, takes his place next to Death, who leads the troops in an ecstatic procession to war. Peter was killed in action just two months later. Kollwitz wanted these works to be widely viewed. By eliminating references to a specific time or place, she created universally legible indictments of the real sacrifices demanded in exchange for abstract concepts of honor and glory. The prints were exhibited in 1924 at the newly founded International Anti-War Museum in Berlin.

Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011
Medium
One from a portfolio of eight woodcuts (including cover)
Dimensions
composition: 14 3/16 x 11 13/16" (36 x 30 cm); sheet: 25 11/16 x 18 13/16" (65.3 x 47.8 cm)
Publisher
Emil Richter, Dresden
Printer
probably Fritz Voigt, Berlin
Edition
100
Credit
Gift of the Arnhold Family in memory of Sigrid Edwards
Object number
470.1992.7
Copyright
© 2024 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Portfolio
War (Krieg)
Department
Drawings and Prints

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