Käthe Kollwitz (8 July 1867 – 22 April 1945) was a German painter, printmaker, and sculptor whose work offered an eloquent and often searing account of the human condition, and the tragedy of war, in the first half of the 20th century. Her empathy for the less fortunate, expressed most famously through the graphic means of drawing, etching, lithography, and woodcut, embraced the victims of poverty, hunger, and war. Initially her work was grounded in Naturalism, and later took on Expressionistic qualities.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28th June, 1914, triggered off the First World War. Käthe’s two sons, Hans and Peter, immediately joined the German Army. She wrote in her journal on 30th September, 1914: “Nothing is real but the frightfulness of this state, which we almost grow used to. In such times it seems so stupid that the boys must go to war. The whole thing is so ghastly and insane. Occasionally there comes that foolish thought: how can they possibly take part in such madness? And at once the cold shower: they must, must!" On 23rd October, 1914, Peter Kollwitz was killed at Dixmuide in Belgium on the Western Front.
In 1933, after the establishment of the National-Socialist regime, the Nazi Party authorities forced her to resign her place on the faculty of the Akademie der Künste following her support of the Dringender Appell (Urgent Call for Unity). Her work was removed from museums. Although she was banned from exhibiting, one of her “mother and child” pieces was used by the Nazis for propaganda.
“Every war already carries within it the war that will answer it. Every war is answered by a new war, until everything is smashed. That is why I am so wholeheartedly for a radical end to this madness and why my only hope is in world socialism." -Diary entry (21 February 1944)
Working now in a smaller studio, in the mid-1930s she completed her last major cycle of lithographs, Death, which consisted of eight stones: Woman Welcoming Death, Death with Girl in Lap, Death Reaches for a Group of Children, Death Struggles with a Woman, Death on the Highway, Death as a Friend, Death in the Water, and The Call of Death.
In July 1936, she and her husband were visited by the Gestapo, who threatened her with arrest and deportation to a Nazi concentration camp; they resolved to commit suicide if such a prospect became inevitable. However, Kollwitz was by now a figure of international note, and no further action was taken. On her seventieth birthday, she “received over one hundred and fifty telegrams from leading personalities of the art world”, as well as offers to house her in the United States, which she declined for fear of provoking reprisals against her family.
She outlived her husband (who died from an illness in 1940) and her grandson Peter, who died in action in World War II two years later.
She was evacuated from Berlin in 1943. Later that year, her house was bombed and many drawings, prints, and documents were lost. She moved first to Nordhausen, then to Moritzburg, a town near Dresden, where she lived her final months as a guest of Prince Ernst Heinrich of Saxony. Kollwitz died just before the end of the war.
An enlarged version of a similar Kollwitz sculpture, Mother with her Dead Son, was placed in 1993 at the center of Neue Wache in Berlin, which serves as a monument to “the Victims of War and Tyranny”.
on Kollowitz’s life: (x), especially her involvement with socialism and feminism
Woman with Dead Child, 1903 etching
Death, 1893-94 etching
Death, Woman, and Child (Tod, Frau und Kind), 1910, printed c. 1931 or after
Death Grabbing at a Group of Children, from the series Death, 1934
The People (Das Volk) (plate 7) from War (Krieg), 1922, published 1923
Death Seizes a Women, 1934
The Children of Germany are Starving, 1942
Help Russia (Helft Russland), 1921