Kathe Kollwitz

Coming across a piece entitled “Call of Death” (1934/5 ) by Kathe Kollwitz (at bottom of post), I was struck by the earnestness of the sketch. Surely, I thought, this is from an artist who’s experienced death and grief herself. My look into her life confirmed that she spent much of her life as an artist trying to portray grief.

Kathe was born in a province of Prussia in 1867. She was said to be affected by anxiety as a child after the early death of her younger brother. With the encouragement of her father she immersed herself in art at the age of 12. She was married at 24 to a
physician who served the poor of Berlin. Her two sons Hans and Peter were born in 1892 and 1896. Her inspiration originally came from the struggles of the peasants that she lived among. To the right is the etching “Death(Poor Family)”(1900) as an example of what she witnessed on a daily basis.

In 1914, her 18 year old son Peter was killed on the battle field during WWI. She subsequently entered a time of deep depression. She worked for several years through different media, attempting to represent her grief. Lithography was not satisfying, so she moved to wood cut which allowed her to slash and gouge the wood, heightening the emotion of grief. She also worked during this time on a monument for her son, which now stands above his grave in Vladso, Germany. To the right are the three different media; lithograph, wood cut, and stone and three different themes relating to her son’s death. In order are “The Parents”(1919), “The Parents (War)”(1921), and “Grieving Parents”(1925-32).


Kathe’s charcoal drawing “Call of Death”(1934/5) was one of her last works of art completed. The features of the woman are of the artist herself. I am struck that after all her works showing hers and others grief, how ready she seems when death calls her. Her look over her shoulder is one of expectancy and perhaps relief.

Kathe died 2 weeks before the end of WWII. Gerhart Hauptmann, Nobel Prize winner in Literature 1912, said of Kollwitz “Her silent lines penetrate the marrow like a cry of pain; such a cry was never heard among the Greeks and Romans.”

To explore more of her works check out these two websites with many pieces: A_R_T and Artnet. Also, you can see a short 1 minute movie clip from a documentary on her life from the Roland Collection.

Cross published at http://arts.pallimed.org/2008/12/kathe-kollwitz.html

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