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Käthe Kollwitz

German Printmaker and Sculptor

Käthe Kollwitz Photo

Born: July 8, 1867 - Königsberg, East Prussia

Died: April 22, 1945 - Moritzburg, Germany

"At such moments, when I know I am working with an international society opposed to war, I am filled with a warm sense of contentment."

Käthe Kollowitz

Summary of Käthe Kollwitz

Fiercely committed to portraying the plights of workers and peasants, Käthe Kollwitz rendered the grief and harrowing experiences of both historical and contemporary wars in the first decades of the 20th century. Bucking usual artistic trends, Kollwitz adopted printmaking as her primary medium, and drawing from her own socialist and anti-war sentiments, she harnessed the graphic and expressive powers of the medium to present to the public an unvarnished look at the root causes and long-lasting effects of war. While her interest in printmaking and sometimes her subject matter coincided with the Expressionist painters in Germany, she remained independent from them, charting her own path in the burgeoning world of modern art.

In following the example of Goya's print series, The Disasters of War, Kollwitz's depictions of rebellion, poverty, and loss refuse the melodrama of war and sacrifice and instead concentrate on specific personal experiences that can be understood by many. In addition to her powerful visual legacy that still reverberates among graphic protest artists, her role as a recognized, leading female artist of the time ensures her place in the annals of 20th-century modern art.

Key Ideas

While Kollwitz initially began her artistic training as a painter, she quickly found her voice in printmaking. Over the years, as she mastered several different printmaking techniques and experimented with combining them, she was able to simplify her graphic compositions, removing extraneous details and imbuing them with even greater emotional effect that had a more universal impact.
While many modern artists explored the realms of abstraction to convey the ramifications of modernity and war, Kollwitz committed herself to an expressive naturalism in order to convey more deeply the range of emotions and experiences unleashed by these difficult times.
As an artist and a mother, Kollwitz was instrumental in establishing new ways in which modern women could portray themselves in art outside of traditional guises. Kollwitz created several self-portraits and portrayed women working, mourning, and leading revolutions. In particular, Kollwitz explored the subject of motherhood in all of its complexity throughout her long career.
While noted as a highly skilled printmaker, Kollwitz also turned her attention to sculpture, creating several memorials that explored her abiding anti-war themes of mourning and grief in three dimensions. Sometimes drawing on religious themes, such as the pietà, Kollwitz's sculpture embody a deep empathy with human suffering.
Käthe Kollwitz Photo

Käthe Ida Schmidt (later Kollwitz) was the fifth child of seven born to parents Katharina and Karl Schmidt. Karl trained as a lawyer, but he declined to practice due to the incongruousness of his political views with the authoritarian Prussian state. He later joined the German Social Democratic Workers Party (SPD), but ultimately worked as a stonemason and became an expert builder. Katharina grew up in a strict, radically political and religious household. Katharina and Karl equally supported the professional aspirations of their four surviving children and ensured that their daughters received every educational and training opportunity available. Käthe's later progressive values and politics were firmly rooted in her childhood.

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