Modern (19th century-1945) German Expressionism Graphic Arts
(Königsburg, Germany, July 8, 1867 - April 22, 1945, Moritzburg, Germany)
Käthe Kollwitz held strong political convictions and incorporated social commentary into much of her work. Born to a working class family in Königsburg, Germany on July 8, 1867, she espoused Socialist principles and feminism at an early age. As a female, Kollwitz was barred from major art academies, but she did attend art school in Königsburg, Berlin, and Munich between 1881-8. In 1891, she married Dr. Karl Kollwitz, a worker’s health insurance physician, and moved to a poor area in Berlin.
Kollwitz began her career with painting, but switched to etching and lithography in 1890. Her earliest success was ‘A Weaver’s Revolt’ (1897-9), followed by ‘Peasant War’ (1902-8). Both of these series commented on current working conditions in Germany. Kollwitz learned to sculpt at the Académie Julian in Paris in 1904 and began producing her own sculptures in 1910. In 1917, the work of Ernst Barlach inspired her to try another medium---woodcut. She experimented with different ways of representing the human body, but her images always focused primarily on the beauty of simplicity. Kollwitz’ work was also shaped greatly by her personal life and values. She often depicted common people, and she found beauty in the ordinary. Personal tragedy struck during World War I: Kollwitz’s son Peter was killed in action. She never fully recovered from this loss, and her work after 1914 became increasingly morbid and introspective. Themes of motherhood, war, misery, and the looming specter of Death became common.
Kollwitz was well established as an artist by 1917. In honor of her fiftieth birthday, a large exhibition of her work was held in Berlin. In 1919, she became the first woman elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. Two more exhibitions of her work took place in Moscow in 1927 and 1932. She opened a printing studio in 1928. In addition to many sculptures, she produced the woodcut series ‘War’ (1922-3), the lithographic series ‘Death’ (1934-7), and many posters, including ‘War- Never Again!’ (1924).
The rise of Nazism brought decline to Kollwitz' career, due to her advocacy of social reform. She exhibited in Berlin in 1934-5, but was unofficially banned after that. She lost her studio, and in 1933 was forced to resign from the Academy. Matters grew worse; her grandson was killed on the Russian Front in 1942, and her house, along with much of her life’s work, was destroyed in 1943. Kollwitz evacuated Berlin. She died in Moritzburg, Germany on April 22, 1945, shortly before the surrender of the German army.