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5 Fast Facts: Käthe Kollwitz

Blog Category:  5 Fast Facts
Black ink drawing on yellow-beige ground of the head and shoulders of an adult woman. She frowns, looks to her left, and holds her right hand up to her right temple. Her hair is pulled back and she wears a dark garment.

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945). NMWA’s collection holds 16 of Kollwitz’s works, including three sculptures and 13 prints.

Käthe Kollwitz, The Downtrodden, 1900; Etching and aquatint on paper, 12 1/8 x 9 3/4 in. Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2002 Artists Rights Society (ARS)/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

1. A Woman for the People

Kollwitz advocated for social change and causes such as abortion rights and workers’ rights. Her socialist, open-minded family and upbringing in the liberal town of Königsberg, Germany (now Kaliningrad, Russia), fostered her voice.

2. Artistic Beginnings

Kollwitz began her formal artistic training at age 14. Between World War I and World War II, she became proficient in etching, lithographs, and woodcuts. During this period, Kollwitz’s preferred medium of printmaking mimicked the reproducibility and accessibility of war propaganda.

3. Revolting

Kollwitz exhibited “A Weaver’s Revolt” (1893–1897) at the 1898 Great Berlin Art Exhibition. This six-print series, of which NMWA holds Conspiracy and The End, depicts a fictitious worker’s revolt in a contemporary setting, highlighting Kollwitz’s concern for the working class. Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II refused to award Kollwitz a gold medal at the exhibition on the grounds of her gender—and because he believed the series was subversive.

In this dark, black-and-white etching, three figures hover around a long table in heated conversaton. The room is dark and barren.
Käthe Kollwitz, Conspiracy (from the series, “A Weaver’s Rebellion”), 1922; Etching on paper (restrike), 17 3/4 x 14 in.; NMWA, Gift of Grant and Virginia D. Green

4. Dual Purpose

In 1914, Kollwitz’s son Peter died while fighting in World War I. As a result, art became both an emotional outlet for the artist as well as a form of propaganda that communicated an urgency to protect the youth of Germany.

5. Her Legacy

Though much of her work was destroyed in a 1943 Berlin air raid, and she died two years later, Kollwitz’s voice still resonates. Extant works, such as The Downtrodden (1900), part of NMWA’s collection, powerfully depict universal human emotions like anguish, despair, and determination. Two museums dedicated to Kollwitz, in Berlin and in Cologne, keep her legacy alive.

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