Bismarck, Otto v.
Kleist, Heinrich v.
Ossietzky, Carl v.
Schinkel, Karl Friedrich
b. July 8, 1867, Königsberg, East Prussia [now Kaliningrad, Russia]
April 22, 1945, near Dresden
nee Schmidt--German graphic artist and sculptor, an eloquent advocate for
the victims of social injustice, war, and inhumanity.
"Self-Portrait," 1910. National Gallery, Berlin.
She grew up in a liberal middle-class family and studied painting in Berlin (1884-85)
and Munich (1888-89). After 1890 she devoted herself primarily to graphic art,
producing etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, and drawings. In 1891 she married Karl
Kollwitz, a doctor who opened a clinic in a working-class section of Berlin. There she
gained firsthand insight into the miserable conditions of the urban poor.
Kollwitz' first important works were two separate series of prints, respectively entitled
"Der Weberaufstand" (c. 1894-98; "Weavers' Revolt") and "Bauernkrieg" (1902-08;
"Peasants' War"). In these works she portrayed the plight of the poor and oppressed
with the powerfully simplified, boldly accentuated forms that became her trademark.
After 1910 Kollwitz turned to making sculptures for a time. The death of her
youngest son in battle in 1914 profoundly affected her, and she expressed her grief in
another cycle of prints that treat the themes of the mother protecting her children or the
mother with a dead child. For many years Kollwitz also worked on a granite
monument for her son, depicting her husband and herself as grieving parents. In 1932
it was erected in a cemetery in Flanders as a memorial.
Kollwitz greeted the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the German revolution of 1918
with hope, but she eventually became disillusioned with Soviet Communism. During
the years of the Weimar Republic, she became the first woman to be elected a member
of the Prussian Academy of Arts, where from 1928 to 1933 she was head of the Master
Studio for Graphic Arts. Despite these honours, she continued to devote herself to
socially effective, easily understood art. The Nazis' rise to power in Germany in 1933
led to the removal of her exhibited works in 1934 and 1936.
Kollwitz' last great series of lithographs, "Death" (1934-36), treats that tragic theme
with ever starker and more monumental forms that convey a sense of drama. In 1940
Kollwitz' husband died. The aged artist's beloved grandson was killed in action in
1942 during World War II, and the bombing of her home and studio in 1943
destroyed much of her life's work. She died a few weeks before the end of the war in
Europe. Kollwitz was the last great practitioner of German
Expressionism and was
perhaps the foremost artist of social protest in the 20th century. The Diary and Letters
of Kaethe Kollwitz was published in 1988.
"Kollwitz, Käthe" Encyclopædia Britannica Online.