Käthe Kollwitz


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Kollwitz, Käthe

 

(maiden name, Schmidt). Born July 8, 1867, in Königsberg (present-day Kaliningrad, USSR); died Apr. 22, 1945, in Moritzburg, Saxony. German graphic artist and sculptor.

Kollwitz was raised in a family that was involved in the workers’ movement and steeped in socialist ideas. She studied under K. Stauffer-Bern in Berlin (1885–86) and under L. Herterich in Munich (1888–89). A professor at the Berlin Academy of Arts from 1919, she was expelled from her position by the fascists in 1933. In 1927 she visited the USSR. Her creative work, which is devoted to the German proletariat and its liberation struggle, is one of the high points of European revolutionary realistic art.

Even Kollwitz’ early etchings and lithographs, which show the influence of the graphic artist M. Klinger, revealed the dramatic tension and psychological saturation of images, the dynamic composition, and the chiaroscuro that were typical of her work. The two series The Revolt of the Weavers (1897–98) and The Peasant War (1903–08) give a detailed narrative of the uprisings, the unbearable living conditions that preceded them, and their suppression. Slowly developing the events and bringing them to their heroic culmination and sorrowful, dramatic finale, Kollwitz rises to high tragedy and revolutionary enthusiasm in both series, but particularly in The Peasant War, which is the more universal and expressive of the two.

Kollwitz, whose son died in battle, perceived World War I through the prism of personal tragedy, which imparted a gloomy, sacrificial tone to her creative work (the cycle of woodcuts War, 1922–23, and Parents—a granite memorial to German soldiers in Vladslo, Belgium, 1924—32). To a certain extent, she approached expressionism in her sharply emotional perception of the horrors of war and the tragedies of workers’ families in urban slums (the cycle of lithographs Hunger, 1924, and the cycle of woodcuts Proletariat, 1925). Humanistic social ideas, protest against oppression, violence, and war, and a call to the workers to unite are important in her creative work (In Memory of K. Liebknecht, woodcut, 1919–20, posters created for the Communist Party of Germany in the 1920’s, and the lithographs Demonstration, 1931, and We Stand Up for the Soviet Union, 1931–32). Kollwitz worked as a sculptor during the last years of her life. In 1942, she created a lithograph of the heroic image of a mother protecting her children from death on the battlefield.

REFERENCES

Razdol’skaia, V. Koll’vits. Moscow, 1960.
Nagel, O. Kete Kol’vits, Moscow [1971]. (Translated from German.)
Strauss, G. Käthe Kollwitz. Dresden, 1950.

B. A. ZERNOV