Gallery Archive - KATHE KOLLWITZ Artist of The People 15 May 1997 - 07 June 1997
Celebrated as one of the greatest draughtswomen and printmakers of all time in Germany, Käthe Kollwitz is little known in this country. In her powerful and evocative prints Kollwitz touches on ideas of emancipation, motherhood and the grim realities of poverty, death, political struggle and persecution, relevant to the turbulent time in which she lived.
Käthe Kollwitz (1867 - 1945) was born at a time of great change throughout Europe, into a family which held radical views and where women's emancipation was encouraged. Her politics, although progressive, were unspecific and she described herself as 'evolutionary', not 'revolutionary'. By the age of 17 she was engaged to a young doctor, Karl Kollwitz and had left home to go to art school. Despite originally wishing to become a painter, she excelled in drawing, which she soon made her medium. She exhibited regularly and embarked on a successful career as a graphic artist. By 1899 her reputation for works concerned with social issues, fraternity and revolution was growing. Her work at this time culminated in cycles of prints depicting workers' rebellions, two examples of which, A Weaver's Uprising and A Peasants' Revolt, are in the Exhibition.
When, in 1906 her husband's work took the family to Berlin, Kollwitz began to explore themes by the human condition. The Kollwitzs lived in an area overpopulated by factory workers, a breeding ground for tuberculosis. Her husband's patients soon became her subject; in such a disease-ridden area, Kollwitz saw much infant mortality and both her sons suffered from respiratory diseases. Then the First World War took the life of her son Peter and marked a definite change in the direction of her work, away from specific events, riots and conspiracies, to the more universal themes of maternal grief and suffering and resulting imprints like Woman and Death and Woman with Dead Child. Kollwitz said in 1922, 'I want to have an effect on this era in which human beings are so much at a loss and so in need of help'.
All through her life Kollwitz produced many self-portraits, some of which
are included in the Exhibition. In the portraits she does not beautify herself,
but makes incisive studies of the process of ageing. In her own words, 'only
the ugly is beautiful'.
Courtesy of the South Bank Centre, London.