Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945) was one of the leading artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, notable for the emotional power of her drawing, printmaking and sculpture.
She lived an intensely examined life, expressed in her numerous self-portraits, diaries and correspondence; at the core of this existence was her work as an artist and a mastery of graphic art which quickly established her reputation in Germany, then further afield as her influence spread internationally after the First World War. Establishing herself in an art world dominated by men, Kollwitz developed a vision centred on women and the working class.
Kollwitz’s unique artistic talent, her technical prowess and intelligence, and above all her humanity, can be seen in the work shown here. She was refreshingly unpretentious, keen to reach as many as possible, the general public as well as art specialists, and content that her art “should have purposes outside itself.”
The exhibition looks at her work through the exploration of her self-portraits and portraits of working women, her two great series concerned with social injustice: Ein Weberaufstand (A Weavers’ Revolt, completed in 1897) and Bauernkrieg (Peasants’ War completed in 1908), the ever-present imagery of death, especially a mother’s grief, and finally the theme of war and remembrance after her younger son, Peter, had been killed at the beginning of the First World War.
There is much about the life and work of Kollwitz that instils hope, that is inspiring and life affirming, despite the burden of hardship and sorrow carried by so many of her figures and by herself. She was an intensely passionate individual, in personal relationships and politics, an artist who pushed hard in the direction of equality for women in all walks of life. Her emphasis was often on what was distinctive about women’s experience, including the fundamental nature and potency of maternal love. She believed that art could be a force for good in society.
The exhibition is drawn from the collection of the British Museum and is complemented by a small number of loans from a private owner and The Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of