Käthe KollwitzGerman, 1867–1945
Starr Figura, German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 2011
Printmaker, draftsman, sculptor. Trained initially as a painter, but by 1890 turned to printmaking as means for social criticism. Married to a physician to proletarian families in Berlin, felt deep admiration for working class and dedicated her art to the poor and oppressed, especially women and children. Devastated by the death of her younger son, Peter, in combat in 1914, embraced pacifism and concentrated increasingly on themes of sacrifice and mourning. Stylistically indebted to Naturalism, but eventually began simplifying compositions, to emphasize emotion.
Made a total of 275 prints, nearly all black and white. Focused on etching until about 1911, then turned more to lithography, capitalizing on its directness and immediacy, especially for posters supporting postwar humanitarian causes. Inspired by Ernst Barlach, in 1920 adopted woodcut technique, which led to greater simplification without losing figurative legibility, as demonstrated in portfolio War, published in 1924. Wanted prints to be widely accessible, both in content and price, but was encouraged by publishers Emil Richter and, later, Alexander von der Becke, to create special editions for elite market as well.
Became first woman elected to Prussian Academy of Arts in 1919; expelled by Nazis, who prohibited her from exhibiting but nevertheless appropriated her images for own propaganda. During World War II Berlin apartment destroyed, with great loss of work. Died two weeks before German surrender.
Knesebeck, Alexandra von dem. Käthe Kollwitz: Werkverzeichnis der Graphik. Band I & II. Bern: Kornfeld, 2002.
Prelinger, Elizabeth, ed. Käthe Kollwitz. Exh. cat. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1992.
Rix, Brenda D., and Jay A. Clarke. Käthe Kollwitz: The Art of Compassion. Exh. cat. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 2003.