Käthe Kollwitz: Etching and cutting the Human Condition

My recall of a Kollwitz woodcut is from many years ago, titled ‘Die Mütter’ (The Mothers) – a huddled heap of bereaved and bereft humanity, seeking to console and comfort each other, with futility, for they appear to be calcified by a known or unknown terror. That woodcut remained etched in my consciousness for a long time, tucked away in some obscure drawer, but always there, always gnawing. The work of 19th C / early 20th C German artist Käthe Kollwitz, is not one of tentative, delighting probing but of cathartic, universal anguish. Unleashing a visceral chronicle of human suffering and struggle – through depicting injustice, poverty, and the terrible price of mindless man made conflicts, her work achieves an emotional tenor and intensity that resonates beyond her immediate circumstances in Germany of the early 20th C. Fighting off personal tragedies, and a distinctly ‘gender unequal’ social and cultural milieu, Kollwitz emerged to become the first woman ever to be elected to the prestigious Prussian Academy of Arts, in 1920. About a century later, her work continues to remind us of the fragility and despair of the human condition, where vast populations still seek social justice, and with mindless looming war-clouds over the horizon, her work is a strong reminder that man made conflict always draws a terrible price, a price that is both devastating and unceasing. Take a peek at her work:

The Mothers. Plate 6 from the series ‘Krieg’ (War.) 1922–23. Woodcut.

Need. From ‘A Weaver’s Revolt’, sheet 1. 1893-97. Lithograph.

Death. From ‘A Weaver’s Revolt’, sheet 2. 1893-97. Lithograph.

Conspiracy. From ‘A Weaver’s Revolt’. 1893-97. Line etching.

 End. From ‘A Weaver’s Revolt’. 1893-97. Line etching.

Raped. From ‘Peasant’s War’, sheet 2. 1907-08. Line etching.

Sharpening the Scythe. From ‘Peasant’s War’, sheet 3. 1905. Line etching.

Charge. From ‘Peasant’s War’, sheet 3. 1902. Line etching.

The Prisoners. From ‘Peasant’s War’, sheet 7. 1908. Line etching.

Self-Portrait, Hand at the Forehead. From ‘Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst’, New Series, Vol. 26. 1910. Line etching and drypoint.

Young Couple. 1904. Line etching.

Woman with Crossed Hands. 1898-1899. Line etching.

Praying Woman. 1892. Line etching.

Seated Male Nude. 1891. Line etching.

The Widow I. Fourth plate in the series Krieg (War). 1922-23. Woodcut.

Memorial for Karl Liebknecht. 1919-20. Woodcut.

The Volunteers. Second plate from the series Krieg (War). 1922–23. Woodcut.

The Widow II. Fifth plate in the series Krieg (War).1922–23. Woodcut.

The People. Seventh plate in the series Krieg (War). 1922–1923. Woodcut.

Children Dying. Third plate from the series ‘Proletariat’ (Working Class).1925. Woodcut.

Hunger. Second plate from the series ‘Proletariat’ (Working Class).1925. Woodcut.

Sleeping Woman with Child. 1930. Woodcut.


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