Urgent Museum Notice

The Downtrodden

Close up of The Downtrodden

Print depicting a woman cradling the head of dead or ailing child in her lap; a man standing to her left turns away, covering his face with a hand.While the overall composition is black, with touches of light defining the features of the couple, a bright light illuminates the child's visage.

Käthe Kollwitz, The Downtrodden, 1900; Etching and aquatint on paper, 12 1/8 x 9 3/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

The Downtrodden
Käthe Kollwitz

Käthe Kollwitz believed that art should effect social change. She originally envisioned The Downtrodden as part of a triptych related to her cycle of etchings called The Weaver’s Rebellion but ultimately developed it as an independent work.

The Downtrodden forces viewers to confront the vulnerability of working-class people struggling to survive. A woman cradles the head of dead or ailing child in her lap; the man standing to her left turns away, covering his face with a hand.

As an expressionist artist, Kollwitz skillfully manipulated her black-and-white medium to maximize the etching’s emotional impact on viewers. Kollwitz contrasted the inky background with the delicate cross-hatching that defines the adult figures. Against these dark areas, the child’s head and shoulders appear startlingly pale.

In The Downtrodden, Kollwitz also acknowledged the range of emotion that the illness or death of a child can wrought. The quiet concern of the woman’s face contrasts with the man’s clenching left hand—a gesture that powerfully signifies the anguished expression it obscures.

Artwork Details

  • Artist

    Käthe Kollwitz
  • Title

    The Downtrodden
  • Date

    1900
  • Medium

    Etching and aquatint on paper
  • Dimensions

    12 1/8 x 9 3/4 in.
  • Donor Credit

    Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay
  • Photo Credit

    Lee Stalsworth
  • On Display

    Yes