kathe kollwitz portrait

Kathe Kollwitz /   Käthe Kollwitz

Germany 1867 - 1945

Sculpture, Painting, Prints

Kathe Kollwitz
Käthe Kollwitz
October 31, 2016
Ok, I know it's so damn corny to quote somebody just to describe yourself, let alone Confucius, but this quote says all about my relationship with Widewalls, so forgive me for doing this: Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. Am I forgiven?

Born in 1867, Käthe Kollwitz was a German artist whose (early realist, later mostly) expressionistic works in print, drawing, and sculpture most often described the anguish and suffering felt by the common people in times of armed conflict. She focused on printmaking as the medium she considered best suited to capture the social and political commentary she presented with her art. Having lived through multiple wars, including World War I and II, Käthe Kollwitz experienced the grief of personal loss which deeply affected her work and life. She was a sworn pacifist and part of the Socialist movement, and her works depict the plight of the working class, especially the women, the children and the poor, during the “unspeakably difficult years” of both world wars in Germany.

Self-portrait of academy acclaimed german artist in home museum and new gallery
Käthe Kollwitz – Woman Entrusts Herself to Death, 1934 (left) / Death Seizes a Woman, 1934 (right)

The Beautiful Proleteriat

Käthe Kollwitz was born to parents Karl and Katherine Schmidt. Her family had ties to the Social Democrat Party, and her grandfather on her mother’s side, Julius Rupp, an expelled Lutheran priest, influenced her greatly with lessons about religion and socialism. Later in life, after marrying Doctor Karl Kollwitz and moving to Berlin, Käthe was exposed to the laborers in the waiting rooms of her husband’s office which served also as their appartment. Even though a member of the bourgeoisie herself, she considered it boring, in contrast with the simple beauty of the proleteriat. She wrote: “The motifs I was able to select from this milieu (the workers’ lives) offered me, in a simple and forthright way, what I discovered to be beautiful…. People from the bourgeois sphere were altogether without appeal or interest. All middle-class life seemed pedantic to me. On the other hand, I felt the proletariat had guts. It was not until much later…when I got to know the women who would come to my husband for help, and incidentally also to me, that I was powerfully moved by the fate of the proletariat and everything connected with its way of life…. But what I would like to emphasize once more is that compassion and commiseration were at first of very little importance in attracting me to the representation of proletarian life; what mattered was simply that I found it beautiful.“[1] In the years preceding World War II, she criticized the Nazi government of Adolf Hitler. This led to her being arrested by the Gestapo, both her and her husband losing their positions and her work being banned and taken out of museums for being “degenerate”. Even so, she remained vocal in her social critique.

Marching With And Towards Death

german arts academy support artist working from home at berlin. husband karl gives support for new art
Käthe Kollwitz – The Volunteers (1922)

The Touch of Death and War

Having lost a younger brother while growing up, a son in World War I and a grandson in World War II, one of the ever-present subjects in Kollwitz’s work is death and its toil on the the most vulnerable members of society: orphans, widows… Her art, largely in black and white, reflects the loss and grief felt by women, especially mothers, in a day and age unwelcoming, as she felt, to the female gender. Her portfolio of seven woodprints entitled “War” portrays the tragediesof World War I and its aftermath. Of the seven works, six focus on the women and children left behind, and only one portrayed actual fighters. The work called “The Volunteers” shows a group of soldiers including Käthe’s younger son Peter, as they grimly march alongside Death.
Even so, Kollwitz found it difficult to use her art to deal with her grief. She wrote in her journal: “Stagnation in my work… When it comes back (the grief) I feel it stripping me physically of all the strength I need for work. Make a drawing: the mother letting her dead son slide into her arms. I might make a hundred such drawings and yet I do not get any closer to him. I am seeking him. As if I had to find him in the work… For work, one must be hard and thrust outside one-self what one has lived through. As soon as I begin to do that, I again feel myself a mother who will not give up her sorrow. Sometimes it all becomes so terribly difficult.”[2]

Käthe died in 1945 at the age of 77. The street in Berlin where she used to live and the adjoining square were renamed after her in the following years. She is one of the leading female representatives of German arts.


  1. Fecht, Tom: Käthe Kollwitz: Works in Color, page 6. Random House, Inc., 1988.
  2. Spartacus educational: Käthe Kollwitz

Featured image jmb.sagepub.com
Other images via moma.org

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumGroup/Solo
2012Wilhelm Loth Und Käthe KollwitzKäthe Kollwitz Museum Köln, Cologne, GermanyGroup
2011The Industrial ModernMMoCA The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WIGroup
2011German Expressionism: The Graphic ImpulseMoMA Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NYGroup
2010Paris bezauberte mich Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln, CologneSolo
2008Transforming RealityGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NYGroup
2007Apocalypse Now: The Theater of WarCCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, CAGroup
2007Private Treasures: Four Centuries of European Master DrawingsThe National Gallery of Art, Washington, DCGroup
2007International Incheon Women Artist's Biennale 2007Incheon, South KoreaGroup
2007Body Politics: Figurative Prints and Drawings from Schiele to De KooningWalker Art Center, Minneapolis, MNGroup
2007Was ist Plastik? 100 Jahre-100 Köpfe-Das Jahrhundert moderner SkulpturStiftung Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, Center of International Sculpture, Duisburg,GermanyGroup
2006Prints and Drawings of Käthe KollwitzThe RISD Museum, Providence, RISolo
2006Die Kunst des Selbstporträts: Sammlung Leonie von RüxlebenKunsthalle St. Annen Lübeck, LübeckGroup
2006Conflict and ArtCantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Stanford, CAGroup
2006 EssayGalerie St. Etienne, New York, NYGroup
2006Meisterwerke des 20. Jahrhunderts Galerie Pels-Leusden, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2006From Anxiety to Ecstasy: Themes in German Expressionist PrintsPortland Art Museum, Portland, ORGroup
2006Käthe KollwitzKunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg, GermanySolo
2005Self-Portraits: A Modern View. Works on Paper from 1900 to 1950Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa, OntarioGroup
200525 Jahre Remmert und BarthGalerie Remmert und Barth, Duesseldorf, GermanyGroup
2005Recent Acquisitions: And Some Thoughts on the Current Art MarketGalerie St. Etienne, New York, NYGroup
2004Bilder von Kindern. Bildern für KinderLeopold Museum, ViennaGroup
2004German ExpressionGemeentemuseum Den Haag, Den Haag, NetherlandsGroup
2004Modern Means: Continuity and Change in Art from 1880 to the PresentMori Art Museum, Tokyo, JapanGroup
2004Deutsche Druckgraphik: 20. JahrhundertFred Jahn Studio, Kunsthandel, Munich, GermanyGroup
2004Defiance Despair Desire: German Expressionist Prints fr. Marcia & Granvil SpecksMilwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WIGroup
1998Becoming Käthe KollwitzGalerie St. Etienne New York, NYSolo
1997Käthe Kollwitz--Lea GrundigGalerie St. Etienne New York, NYGroup
1994Käthe KollwitzFoundation Neumann Gingins and Vevey, SwitzerlandSolo
1994Three Berlin Artists of the Weimar EraDes Moines Art Center Des Moines, IAGroup
1994Höch, Kollwitz, MammenGalerie St. Etienne New York, NYGroup
1992Käthe KollwitzNational Gallery of Art Washington, DCSolo
1991Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi GermanyLos Angeles County Museum of Art Los Angeles, CAGroup
1990Klinger, Kollwitz, KubinGalerie St. Etienne New York, NYGroup
1989Zwischen den Kriegen, Käthe KollwitzMuseum Berlin, GermanySolo
1988Die Kollwitz-Sammlung des Dresdner Kupferstich-KabinettesKäthe Kollwitz Museum Cologne, GermanyGroup
1987Käthe Kollwitz: The Power of the Print Galerie St. Etienne New York, NYSolo
1985Käthe Kollwitz HandzeichnungenKäthe Kollwitz Museum Cologne, GermanySolo
1983An alle Künstler! War-Revolution-Weimar San Diego State University San Diego, CAGroup
1981–1982Käthe Kollwitz 1867-1945: The Graphic WorksKettle's Yard Cambridge, EnglandSolo
1976Käthe KollwitzKennedy GalleriesSolo
1976 Käthe Kollwitz Galerie St. Etienne New York, NYSolo
1975Käthe Kollwitz: Graphic WorkStanford University Art Museum Palo Alto, CASolo
1971Käthe KollwitzTel Aviv Museum Tel Aviv, IsraelSolo
1967–1968Käthe KollwitzAkademie der Künste Berlin, GermanySolo
1965Käthe Kollwitz DrawingsGalerie St. Etienne New York, NYSolo
1947Prints by Käthe KollwitzUniversity of Chicago Chicago, ILSolo
1943-1944Käthe KollwitzGalerie St. Etienne New York, NYSolo
1937Degenerate ArtCirculated by the NazisGroup
1936Berlin Sculptors - From Schlüter to the PresentBerlin, GermanyGroup
1925Käthe KollwitzCivic Club New York, NYSolo
1924German Art ExhibitionMoscow, RussiaGroup