Ancient pre-Inca Pachacamac sculpture was coloured


This 2011 video is about the Pachacamac Idol.

From PLOS:

Pachacamac Idol of ancient Peru was symbolically painted

Chemical analysis of the statue reveals its age and original polychromatic design

January 15, 2020

The Pachacamac Idol of ancient Peru was a multicolored and emblematic sacred icon worshipped for almost 700 hundred years before Spanish conquest, according to a study published January 15, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Marcela Sepúlveda of the University of Tarapacá, Chile and colleagues.

The Pachacamac Idol is a symbolically carved wooden statue known from the Pachacamac archaeological complex, the principal coastal Inca sanctuary 31 km south of Lima, Peru during the 15th-16th centuries. The idol was reportedly damaged in 1533 during Spanish conquest of the region, and details of its originality and antiquity have been unclear. Also unexplored has been the question of whether the idol was symbolically colored, a common practice in Old World Antiquity.

In this study, Sepúlveda and colleagues obtained a wood sample from the Pachacamac Idol for chemical analysis. Through carbon-dating, they were able to determine that the wood was cut and likely carved approximately 760-876 AD, during the Middle Horizon, suggesting the statue was worshipped for almost 700 years before Spanish conquest. Their analysis also identified chemical traces of three pigments that would have conferred red, yellow, and white coloration to the idol.

This nondestructive analysis not only confirms that the idol was painted, but also that it was polychromatic, displaying at least three colors and perhaps others not detected in this study. The fact that the red pigment used was cinnabar, a material not found in the local region, demonstrates economic and symbolic implications for the coloration of the statue. The authors point out that coloration is a rarely discussed factor in the symbolic, economic, and experiential importance of religious symbols of the pre-Columbian periods, and that more studies on the subject could illuminate unknown details of cultural practices of the Andean past in South America.

The authors add: “Here, polychromy of the so-called Pachacamac Idol is demonstrated, including the presence of cinnabar.”

Young Rembrandt exhibition in his birthplace


This 1 November 2019 Dutch video is about the exhibition Young Rembrandt, rising star in the Lakenhal museum in Leiden, the Netherlands: the city where Rembrandt was born.

This video is the sequel.

There are about 40 paintings, 70 etches and 10 drawings in the exhibition.

Besides work by Rembrandt, there is also work by his teachers Lastman and Van Swanenburg. And by his colleague Jan Lievens, and by Rembrandt pupils.

It is the first-ever exhibition about Rembrandt’s time from 1624, when he made his first painting; till 1634, when he married Saskia van Uylenburgh and had definitely left Leiden for Amsterdam.

I visited this exhibition on 11 January 2019.

On my way to the museum, I saw four great cormorants sitting on a sail of the reconstructed windmill of Rembrandt’s father. A fifth cormorant flew towards them, landing on the same sail.

In the Lakenhal now, two paintings depicting ancient Greek mythology, as told by Roman poet Ovid, hang side by side.

Rembrandt, The abduction of Proserpina

The oldest of the two was The abduction of Proserpina, from 1630-1631. The picture depicts Pluto, the god of the underworld, abducting Proserpina (Persephone in Greek), daughter of Ceres (Demeter in Greek), the goddess of agriculture.

Pieter Lastman, who taught the young Rembrandt, had inspired his pupil to make paintings about biblical history, antique history and mythology. Yet, if we compare what Rembrandt painted about and what his older contemporary and inspiration Rubens painted about, then we see a striking difference. 75% of Rubens’ work had religious or antique historical and mythological subjects. With Rembrandt, only 25% of his work fitted into these categories. While 70% of Rembrandt’s work were portraits, including self-portraits. Only 15% of Rubens’ work were portraits; 0% self-portraits.

So, Rembrandt painted far less historical and mythological paintings than Rubens. Five of his works have themes from Ovid; less than many other 17th century artists.

In countries other than the Dutch Republic, these types of paintings often made complimentary allusions to contemporary princes and nobles, and/or were often commissioned by them.

In The Netherlands, there was no monarchical court comparable to this.

There was only the Stadhouder‘s court.

Which would have liked very much to be a princely court like elsewhere in Europe; but constitutionally wasn’t.

Rembrandt got a commission from that princely court (princely, as the Stadhouders were also absolute monarchs in the tiny statelet of Orange in southern France).

But when his portrait of Princess Amalia von Solms, wife of Stadhouder Frederik Hendrik, turned out to be not flattering enough, his relationship to that court deteriorated.

An Hermitage Amsterdam exhibition noted that Stadhouder Frederik Hendrik prefered painters from the feudal southern Netherlands, though that region was the military enemy, to “bourgeois” northern painters like Rembrandt. He also prefered Gerard van Honthorst to Rembrandt as a painter of portraits of his wife. Honthorst was not from the Spanish occupied southern Netherlands. However, his home province Utrecht in the central Netherlands was less bourgeois rebellious than Rembrandt’s Holland. And Honthorst had spent much time in feudal Italy.

Nevertheless, if compared to Rubens, Rembrandt painted many more portraits.

The sky in the Abduction of Proserpina painting is a special blue: lapis lazuli, which is expensive. He could afford that as the painting was commissioned by Frederik Hendrik; in 1630-1631, before that 1632 conflict on the portrait of Princess Amalia von Solms.

The Amalia van Solms portrait is not in Leiden. A Lakenhal worker explained to me that it had been complex to borrow Rembrandt works from other museums. It had not been possible to borrow the Amalia portrait from Paris in France.

Which is a pity, as that painting and its history are important for understanding the relationship between Rembrandt and his clients, whether princely aristocrats or urban bourgeois.

The Dutch weekly Leids Nieuwsblad of 18 July 2006 has a report by Werner Zonderop of a lecture, by Christopher Brown, of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, in Leiden. Chistopher Brown has put together this 2019-2020 Leiden rembrandt exhibition.

Brown’s subject in 1906 was Rembrandt, then born 400 years ago in Leiden.

Rembrandt, portrait of Princess Amalia von Solms

From the report (translated):

[Constantijn] Huygens [private secretary of Prince and Stadhouder Frederik Hendrik] made it possible for Rembrandt to get his first commissions at the Stadhouder’s court [in The Hague].

In this way, in 1632, Rembrandt was allowed to paint the portrait of Amalia von Solms [1602-1675], the wife of Frederik Hendrik.

[She was thirty years old then; eighteen years younger than her husband].

However, the princess of Orange, [nee Countess of Solms-Braunfels], did not like the portrait as it turned out, at all.

She thought her appearance had not been idealized.

To her indignation, Rembrandt painted her too much as she really was: the mouth stiff and grim, knob-nosed and fat, with a rather stern look.

The Abduction of Proserpina painting, now in Leiden, is usually in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

Next to it in the Leiden exhibition is a Rembrandt painting of one year later: The Abduction of Europa. No longer commissioned by the Stadhouder, but by an Amsterdam businessman.

Rembrandt, Abduction of Europa

It is about the Phoenician princess Europa being abducted by the Greek god Zeus (Jupiter in Latin), disguised as a bull.

Normally, that work is in the J. Paul Getty Museum in the USA. The two museums were only willing to send these two similar paintings to Leiden, because now for the first time ever they would hang next to each other.

Another conspicuous 1631 painting in the Lakenhal was a depiction of then 12-year-old German Prince Rupert and his tutor. An article suggests that the prince’s father was not satisfied with the portrait, thinking there was too little emphasis on his son and too much on the non-princely tutor. So, Rembrandt left Leiden for Amsterdam and had his artist pupil Gerrit Dou finish the Prince Rupert painting. Prince Rupert would later play a role in the English civil war.

Prince Rupert and his tutor, by Rembrandt

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England will show this exhibition from 27 February till 7 June 2020.

German anti-war artist Käthe Kollwitz exhibition


This 2019 video says about itself:

Käthe Kollwitz – Portrait of the German artist of expressionism

Käthe Kollwitz died at Moritzburg, near Dresden, in April 1945, shortly before the end of the Second World War. As the film begins she is an old woman in the last months of her life, contemplating death. Using words taken from her diaries and letters, she looks back over her life and work.

It was always of great importance to Kollwitz that her art should communicate directly with an audience, and by working with graphic media – lithography, etching and woodcuts – she hoped to give her images a wide circulation, as campaign posters and in leftwing books and periodicals.

She spent most of her working life in Berlin during the politically turbulent years before and after the First World War. Her husband ran a medical practice for the poor and it was through his work that she became intimately aware of the problem of the urban working class.

She wrote: “I want my art to have a purpose. I want to have an effect on these times when man is so perplexed and in need of help. I will be his attorney.”

But beyond its sense of social and political purpose, her art was always inspired by an intensely personal vision.
“Expression is all I want. I have never done any of my work cold. I have always worked with my blood so to speak. All my work hides within it, life itself, and it is with life that I contend, through my work.”

A film by Ron Orders & Norbert Bunge

By Allan M. Jalon in the USA, December 30, 2019:

Käthe Kollwitz: Artist Of The Resistance

This is the fourth in a series of stories about the work of Käthe Kollwitz and how it influenced artists, activists and collectors like Dr. Richard Simms, part of whose collection is being exhibited by the Getty Center in Los Angeles. You may find the previous articles here, here and here.

In 1903, working with a pencil and chalk on a piece of blue-green paper, a 36-year-old Käthe Kollwitz drew a revolutionary named Black Anna. Kollwitz traced the commanding tilt of her body with long black lines. She shaded in large hands that Anna waves like banners to lead a farmers’ revolt against feudal tyranny.

The drawing came to be owned by Erich Cohen, who made New York his refuge from the Nazis and became the president of A. Goodman & Sons, whose egg noodles, matzos and other good things were staples for growing Baby Boomers. After him, the drawing was owned by Dr. Richard A. Simms, an African-American raised in New Orleans in the Jim Crow era who became the world’s leading private collector of Kollwitz’s art.

In 2016, Simms placed his collection of prints, drawings and other material giving a panoramic view of Kollwitz’s enduring legacy as a graphic artist with the Getty Research Institute (GRI), part of the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles. The 720 items listed in the newly completed on-line catalogue of the collection include art works and various printed matter by other artists in her world. Now, big posters of Anna on the Getty campus lead visitors to a just-opened exhibit drawn from the collection.

It includes the original drawings and various kinds of prints that reveal Kollwitz’s painstaking process, and what one curator called “a chance to look into Dr. Simms’s mind as a collector.”

“Käthe Kollwitz: Prints, Process, Politics” will run until March 29, after which a group of works from the Simms Collection will become part of a different Kollwitz show at the Art Institute of Chicago, which will stress her role as an activist. The LA show emphasizes the steps through which she worked on the imagery that defined her — infant mortality, economic oppression, revolution, portraits of herself in Socratic self-study — with more than 50 of her most important works on the GRI’s walls.

The drawings and prints come with digital studies on screens of her work methods; a short 1923 documentary gives viewers a rare glimpse of her warm smile.

The GRI, with its separate curvy building, belongs to a group of organizations under the Getty umbrella. It is the center’s main repository for prints and drawings and a large archive of materials that open windows into art through centuries.

Marcia Reed, the GRI’s chief curator and overseer of its over 30,000 graphic works from around the world, described the Simms trove as the largest group of such pieces by a modern European artist of Kollwtiz’s stature to land at the Getty. And Louis Marchesano, who curated the show and oversaw the GRI’s book about the Simms collection, called it “a turning point in the history of the Getty’s collection (of works on paper).”

The GRI is also finishing a two-year project of creating a detailed on-line description of the full Simms collection for scholars and others who want to dig below the surface. A few taps on a keyboard can pull up Black Anna. There, with dissecting clarity, are the chalk marks with which Kollwitz made her hands.

A list tells who owned works before Simms. One can trace which belonged to the cache of 121 Simms bought directly from the Kollwitz family, a group acquired all at once that became the cornerstone of his collection. Among the names of former owners is that of Salman Schocken, a German-Jewish business tycoon recalled today as the publisher of Franz Kafka in English.

On December 2, the 93-year-old Simms was applauded at the show’s opening reception and quietly observed as others looked at art he’d bought over four decades. Asked for his impressions, he praised Marchesano and his GRI colleagues for exhibiting “some of the most important pieces.” But his face only came fully to life when he announced that he’d just bought another Kollwitz.

It is one thing to know that this show was conceived as a display of the collecting with which Simms followed Kollwitz’s restless intentions through drawings, proofs, working proofs and completed images.

It’s completely different to see how that searching looks on gallery walls.

Beyond self-portraits and her sculpture, Kollwitz knew two main units of inspiration — print cycles that told dramatic stories and individual prints that belonged to those cycles, of which she made five. She could work on a single print for years. Entering the show, side by side, we see a print Kollwitz rejected for the first sheet, or panel, of her first six-image print cycle, called “A Weavers’ Revolt.”

The cycle is about a 19th-century revolt by fabric workers, and the GRI shows two versions of the first image, both of which reveal the deprivation the weavers faced. Only the name of the piece — “Not” or “Need” — did not change between Kollwitz’s initial print and the one she finally used.

She produced the first effort as a metal etching — but turned to lithography, which is done with a special crayon on stone. Other artists have studied Kollwitz for her understanding of how different media affect a viewer.

The GRI’s book about the Simms collection goes into why Kollwitz changed print forms and the change in the image itself from a more restrained one of a woman who sits alone beside a monstrous dark loom to a mother gripping her head as she watches her child die — from hunger, most likely.

The first gallery includes a self-portrait in which the artist stretches open an eyelid with a finger and looks both worn out and insistently observant.

Nearby, the documentary also shows her making a charcoal drawing, a classic Kollwitz: Children gripped by harrowing extremes of fear cling to a mother who looks like she’s being pulled towards an unstoppably dangerous fate. Kollwitz sketches them in front of the camera with quick facility, affixing the black dots of a boy’s horrified eyes with a skilled, matter-of-fact stab of her charcoal, sweeping her arm up and down as she strokes in black shadows that convey the pressure on the family.

Her fluid physical movement embodies a technical facility that took her with ease into the farthest corners of skill her work required. Kollwitz, we learn by watching her, was a natural who placed no limit on the sacrifices she made to fulfill her goals.

We see three versions — a preparatory drawing and two prints — of “Frau mit totem Kind,” “Woman with Dead Child.” The subject is a woman who, in a state of mad grief, holds her child’s corpse over her crossed legs.

Kollwitz drew the image with black chalk and brighter highlights on gray paper. Her prints formed with techniques that included line etching, dry-point and soft ground. The final print roils with a grieving darkness.

Walking through the first sections of this show quickly, without looking closely at the work for stretches, you might think that many of Kollwitz’s revisions are repetitive, like Andy Warhol’s when he placed Campbell Soup Cans in a stack or a grid. Slow down, and it becomes clear these repetitions are an order of decisive changes.

A large space is devoted to Kollwitz’s second print cycle, “Bauernkrieg”, or “Peasant War”, whose seven panels took her seven years to complete. She did it after reading a monumental book by Wilhelm Zimmerman[n], a liberal 19th Century politician and historian who gave unprecedented attention to an uprising by German farm laborers in 1525 in search of economic justice and self-determination. He called it the German Revolution.

The seven-print series starts with oppression. Along one wall, In keeping with the show’s emphasis on process, there are six preliminary prints Kollwitz made before her final one of two boys pulling the leaden weight of a plow. Then comes one of Kollwitz’s most shattering prints and a pioneering work by a woman artist about sexual violence — called “Vergewaltigt”, or “Rape”.

It shows a victim with her legs spread out amid fragile foliage that seems to suggest the act as a crime against fertility.

This is shown just before the print in which Black Anna first appears, a very tough old woman weathered by a life of fieldwork, bending over a scythe, contemplating whether to lead her fellow farmers in action. In one version of the print — all share the same title, “Inspiration” — a god-like hero crouches behind her and presses her hands to a metal blade to urge her on.

In Kollwitz’s final effort at the print, the mediating muse is gone, and she’s left to inspire herself.

Next, in “Arming in a Vault”, farmers mass and gather weapons, surging out of a dark chasm in the earth. We see two print versions of them, weapons in their hands. In one, a black darkness opens to a bone-colored cave-like depth. The other glows with an orange tinge, a use of color as rare from Kollwitz as a smile. This experiment she rejects.

In the pivotal, fifth print, Black Anna steps into the breach, lifts her hands high with her back to us so the viewer also feels called to join the farmers. They sweep forward in a rage so furious they look like the sideways flames of a California wildfire blown by a furious wind.

It went badly, the historical revolt that swallowed over 100,000 peasants’ lives, and Kollwitz illuminates the outcome in a sixth print called “Battlefield”. This must be Anna, again, grimly bent and evoking Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage. She wanders in a field of slaughtered bodies at night, shining a lantern over the head of a fallen rebel.

This video is a 1985 German documentary film on Käthe Kollwitz.

The seventh and last work is “The Prisoners”, in which rebels stand shackled, defeated.

Beethoven, asked once what it took to be a good composer, is said to have answered: “It’s easy. You just always have to know what to do next.”

It wasn’t easy for him. It wasn’t easy for her. You can almost hear her repeatedly asking herself the creative question: What if?

What if I cut out that woman standing in the corner of the field, who distracts from the plowing boys who lunge almost parallel to the earth with Sisyphean effort?

What if I get rid of the mythic figure whose presence weakens the effect of Black Anna’s decision by siphoning off my focus on her responsibility for it?

Because works on paper are extra-sensitive to light, removing them from the closed flat cases in climate-controlled vaults (fire-proof in the Getty’s case) is risky. That explains why the GRI’s Kollwitz-dedicated spaces are bathed in a clear but moderate light.

The glow falls on a wall holding six exploratory drawings and prints in which her hunt for answers to her self-challenging questions turned painfully frustrating as she worked to honor the murder and mass mourning of Karl Liebknecht.

Liebknecht was a leader of the German communist party who took a lonely stand against Germany’s entrance into World War I.

His ‘lonely stand’ was in 1914, when he, as only MP of the German Social Democrat parliamentary caucus, voted against money for World War I. Other MPs did not really like the war, but voted for the imperial government’s military budget request nevertheless, out of party discipline solidarity with the pro-war right wing of the party.

This is a clip from a German film, reconstructing Liebknecht’s No vote in the 1914 German parliament, leading to consternation among right-wing MPs who try to drown out Liebknecht with ‘patriotic’ singing.

The German communist party was founded on 31 December 2018. Karl Liebknecht was one of its founding members, shortly before he was murdered.

He was assassinated on January 15, 1919, by right-wing para-militarists amid the German proletarian uprisings of 1918-1919. The revolt was crushed by the Freikorps, volunteers of units of the German army that held together after Germany’s defeat in World War I, the early forerunners of the Nazis.

Freikorps officers murdered Liebknecht on the same day they tortured and killed Rosa Luxemburg, a Jewish woman who was one of the leading revolutionary intellectuals of the 20th Century.

Liebknecht, who was not Jewish, worked closely together with her in Leftist politics.

“Treacherous and appalling murder of Liebknecht and Luxemburg”, Kollwitz wrote in her diary entry for January 16, 1919, the day after the killings.

The Liebknecht family asked Kollwitz to create a memorial image of him, and she went to the morgue and made a drawing of his face.

It’s here — the spare, pulsing sketch Kollwitz made as she sketched Liebknecht’s angular forehead, thick moustache and squarish chin.

The artist modeled her approach on religious imagery showing a group of believers gathered around the martyred Christ.

She struggled, and text on the wall translates the critiques she wrote beside the images: “The man to the left is etched better. The man crying, etched to the right, good.”

We see her efforts to match horizontal and vertical forms that create the scene, to achieve the piercing white of the winding-sheet in which the body is shown tightly wrapped.

She pushed herself through the work as a drawing, an etching, a lithograph, and remained unhappy with all of them. On June 24, 1920, Kollwitz visited an exhibition that included woodcuts by Ernst Barlach — a sculptor in wood, print-maker and writer of allegorical plays. She wrote in her diary after getting home: “Today, I looked at my lithographs and saw that almost all of them are not good. Barlach has found his way and I have not yet found mine.

“Should I really make a completely new attempt like Barlach and begin with the woodcut?”

She mastered Barlach’s favored medium quickly. She worked to gain for her ideas the unique quality that wood, gauged and cut and inked by human hands, can project of earth-rooted but civilized expression. She brought together the directness of folk art and the Modernist anxiety over moral loss in a way that was both populist and sophisticated.

She brings us to the core of the mournful resilience in the faces of working-class followers who stand over Liebknecht’s body.

She titled her woodcut, plainly, “Memorial Sheet to Karl Liebknecht”.

With the woodcut, Kollwitz opened a door to years of work with the medium. The exhibit features all of the woodcuts from “Proletariat”. her smallest graphic suite, a 1926 work whose three devastatingly intense prints are titled, “Unemployed”, “Hunger”, and “Child Mortality”.

There are also key woodcuts from a series called “War”, and pieces from “Death”. her final series, lithographs done after the Nazis took power.

The move to woodcuts was probably the most important expressive shift of her career. She focused on them, while not giving up other print-making methods completely, over the next decade. The show devotes most of a separate space to her woodcuts. Their raw, sculptural force portends Kollwitz’s next big move, to sculpture. (There’s none of it here. Simms did not collect Kollwitz’s sculpture. He likes Barlach’s more, he’s told me, but didn’t buy it.)

Jay Clarke, the curator of the Chicago show set to open May 30, has known Simms since her student days at Brown University, writing a thesis that was partly an examination of Kollwitz’s work. She has made the same climb as Louis Marchesano and many other graphic arts insiders, up the stairs to the rooms above Simms’ s pre-retirement dentistry offices in Harbor City, for a long look at prints and drawings that he pulled out.

I recently ran into her at the GRI, where she attended the opening of the Kollwitz show. The next day, she joined Marchesano to look at works both in the show and held in the GRI’s vaults to pick pieces for the revised (how appropriate!) selection that will be seen in Chicago. The Art Institute’s walls, according to Clarke, will consist of 85 pieces, about 35 more than appear in Los Angeles.

The two back-to-back shows represent the biggest surge of Kollwitz consciousness in America since a major 1992 survey of her works on paper at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C.

The Chicago show will combine works from the Simms collection and others in the Art Institute’s holdings, said Clarke, who said the show will demonstrate Kollwitz as “an artist who responded to the events of her day“, as “a political activist”, adding that “The show will look at her entire career through this lens while also considering her approach to process and technique.”

The show’s focus and its title, conjuring images of pussy hats and anti-Trump demonstrations, could not be more timely:

“Käthe Kollwitz: The Art of Resistance.”

The GRI is considering future shows that would explore the deeper regions of the collection, possibly a more general look at German Modernism that would roll out some other artists Simms collected.

The on-line GRI catalogue divides his gift — actually, the Simms-GRI deal was half-gift, half a payment to him of $5 million — into two sections, one for Kollwitz works and the other for art works and materials related to about 30 other artists.

Some of the other artists are relatively well-known in this country, but a number deserve wider recognition. The history that many of the others have in common with Kollwitz is that they matured with her across the line the year 1900 placed between two centuries. They lived through the First World War and the rise of cultural Modernism. In some cases, they also saw the coming of Hitler and the Second World War.

The artists include Max Lieberman[n] (1847-1920)

no; 1847-1935

an important German-Jewish Impressionist who encouraged others in the German art establishment of the late 19th Century to recognize Kollwitz.

Max Klinger (1857-1920) probably had the most decisive impact on the young Kollwitz of any other artist, with an essay he wrote asserting the power of print-making as an art form. He was a magical realist, a dreamer-while-awake original with a startling sense of what goes on in the back of the mind.

Works by other artists in the Simms collection include a 1931 watercolor by George Grosz (1893-1959) who came to the United States to escape the Nazis, and which people who know of it regard as one of the collection’s best pieces.

“At the Café”, as the painting is called, shows an older man, presumably a Weimar-era profiteer, and a young woman who he is treating to a drink, and who knows what his intentions might be? Ever-angular in his world view in those days, Grosz lets you imagine they are as romantic as you wish.

Ludwig Meidner, a German-Jewish artist who survived the Third Reich in England, was a powerfully imaginative artist who may get some more of the attention he deserves, thanks to the Simms holdings at the GRI. Born in 1884, he was a soldier in World War I, an experience that left him devastated. After the war, he became Orthodox, a move to religious observance that he credited with saving his life.

He erupted into apocalyptic visions for a time in the 1920s, after falling ill during a Berlin heat wave, making paintings that pictured a society rushing toward doom, with towns flooded by crowds running mad as if an alien invasion had set upon them.

The artist, who lived until 1966, by one account, would work all night long in his Berlin studio, drawing “Old Testament prophets with a scroll-pen on large sheets of paper.” One of Meidner’s prints is titled, “The Prophet.” It’s not clear which prophet it is. He wears a beard, kneels on top of mountain, holding up his hands and talking to someone higher.

Pro-peace artist Käthe Kollwitz, Los Angeles exhibition


Käthe Kollwitz, 1906, Photographie- Philipp Kester © Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln

By Rafael Azul in the USA:

The great German artist on war, the working class and the murder of socialist Karl Liebknecht

Exhibition at the Getty Center in Los Angeles: Käthe Kollwitz: Prints, Process, Politics

28 December 2019

Käthe Kollwitz: Prints, Process, Politics, December 3, 2019–March 29, 2020, Getty Center in Los Angeles

The Getty Center, a campus of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, is hosting an exhibition of intaglios, lithographs and woodcuts by German left-wing artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), one of the most prominent graphic artists of her day.

The show, Käthe Kollwitz, Prints, Process, Politics, displays a portion of a collection of 654 works by German artists gifted in 2016 to the Getty Research Institute by Dr. Richard Simms. Included in the gift were 286 works by Kollwitz, 52 of which are currently on display at the Getty, arranged chronologically.

Five remarkable series dominate the exhibition: The Weavers’ Revolt, The Peasant War, Karl Liebknecht, War and Proletariat. Also included are prints from her tribute to Émile Zola’s Germinal and from Woman with Dead Child, along with self-portraits.

The Weavers’ Revolt, inspired by Gerhart Hauptmann’s naturalistic stage drama The Weavers (1892), commemorates the 1844 rebellion of thousands of weavers in Silesia (then a Prussian province) against the brutal exploitation of the factory owners. Kollwitz made the series of prints, which brought her to artistic prominence, between 1893 and 1897. The cycle on the Peasant War, which Kollwitz created between 1902 and 1908, commemorates the peasant rebellion that took place across German-speaking regions in 1524-25.

The Karl Liebknecht series, about the murdered revolutionary, was done in 1919-1920. Kollwitz produced the War series between 1918 and 1923. Proletariat, denouncing the misery and hunger of the working class, following the abortive 1923 German revolution, was created in 1924-25.

Among the elements that make the current Getty exhibition exceptional is its inclusion of extremely valuable intermediary works that led to the final versions. As one moves forward, one can retrace Kollwitz steps, which reveal how she struggled to distill from preliminary drawings the essence of a scene or historical depiction. The viewer is invited, by this inclusion of preliminary works, to participate in that metamorphosis and arrives at a better understanding of Kollwitz’s artistic and political perspective.

Charge, Käthe Kollwitz, 1902–1903. The Getty Research Institute, 2016.PR.34

By removing the less important elements and tightening the representation of her subjects, Kollwitz, through her precise, complicated and intricate techniques, placed emphasis on what was emotionally, aesthetically and socially essential.

Karl Liebknecht’s family asked Kollwitz to portray the assassinated socialist leader. Liebknecht was summarily executed, together with his comrade Rosa Luxemburg, on January 15, 1919 on the orders of the counterrevolutionary Social Democratic Party (SDP) regime of Friedrich Ebert, Philipp Scheidemann and Gustav Noske. In an entry from her diary, dated January 25, 1919, Kollwitz writes: “Around the shot-up forehead were placed red flowers, the face proud, the mouth slightly open and painfully contorted.”

In the Liebknecht print, Kollwitz began with charcoal drawings of the deceased revolutionary surrounded by five mourners. She reworked this initial print by cutting and pasting. This initial “reject” was followed by a lithograph, also rejected. The work’s final version is a dramatic woodcut, centered on the impact of his death on those around him.

The use of light and shadow highlighting the individual faces and expressions and weathered hands of the workers who came to mourn the murdered man, with their darkened bodies, contrasts with Liebknecht’s own backlit face and dark, open mouth, his eyes shut, almost like a photographic negative image, surrounded by light. The viewer can imagine the worker in the foreground, with a wound on his forehead and his hand on Liebknecht’s shroud, pledging to continue the struggle.

In Memorian Karl Liebknecht

On August 4, 1914, one week after the eruption of World War I, the parliamentary deputies of the Social Democratic Party of Germany cast their vote in favor of war credits. Only weeks before, the Social Democrats had been singing hymns to the international unity of the working class. Now they were signaling their approval of the imperialist slaughter, resorting to the most grotesque pretexts to justify setting the workers of diverse nations against each other. The SPD position troubled and confused many party supporters, including Käthe Kollwitz and her family. The SPD’s support for the war was a consequence of a pronounced turn to the right by the party in the years leading up to the war, an adaptation to the national-reformist milieu of trade union struggles and parliamentary debate.

A letter from Käthe to her son Hans, in April 1917, sheds light on this situation: “You know, at the beginning of the war, you all said Social Democracy had failed. We said that internationalism had to be put aside for now, but back of everything the international spirit remains. Later on, this concept of mine was almost entirely buried; now it has sprung back to life again… the Social Democrats in Russia are speaking the language of truth. That is internationalism.”

Producing the Liebknecht remembrance had a powerful impact on Kollwitz herself, as she noted in a letter: “I was politically opposed, but his death gave me the first tug toward him. Later I read his letters, with the result that his personality appeared to me in the purest light.”

Liebknecht and Luxemburg bitterly opposed the betrayal of the working class by the SPD, which abandoned internationalism and helped transform the German and French working classes into tools of their own ruling classes.

The Black Anna, Käthe Kollwitz, 1903. The Getty Research Institute_ 2016.PR.34. © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In the Peasant War series, the three preparatory drawings culminate in that of a peasant woman sharpening a scythe to be used as a weapon in the rebellion. Through the several works, Kollwitz increasingly focuses on the transformation of this peasant, from passively leaning of the scythe to sharpening in anticipation of the struggle. In the final version, the woman is sliding her sharpening stone across the blade, while her nearly shut eyes seem to convey her determination.

The Peasant War culminates in a battle scene, concentrating the anger of the peasants rushing into battle.

A similar transformation takes place for the final drawing “Hunger” in the Proletariat series, representing working-class women shielding their children from the ghost of death.

The themes of the Getty exhibition reveal the phases of the artist’s life, through the period of the German Empire under Wilhelm II (1888-1918) and the tragedy of World War I, the Weimar Republic (1918-1933), and the rise of Hitler in 1933. Each of these periods is mirrored in her artistic series, which are genuine visual political and personal manifestoes.

Each period represents personal (Kollwitz lost her younger son Peter in one of the earliest battles of World War I in 1914) and political crises for Kollwitz and the German working class as a whole.

Last week, as museumgoers walked by the literature table at the Getty’s Kollwitz exhibition, they were able to purchase, along with several volumes dedicated to the artist, copies of Rosa Luxemburg’s classic work Reform or Revolution (1899). That this volume is being sold and this exhibition takes place are testaments to the contemporary relevance of Kollwitz the artist and Luxemburg the revolutionary.

Sharpening the Scythe, Käthe Kollwitz, ca. 1905. The Getty Research Institute, 2016.PR.34

After experiencing the exhibition, one leaves with the certainty that these works, which describe the hardship and struggle of workers and peasants, might have been created for the current historical period, describing not just the current wars and the suffering that affect millions of people, but also the fighting spirit of oppressed masses, as they “sharpen their scythes.”

The Käthe Kollwitz exhibition will be on display at the Getty Center until March 29, 2020. The exhibition includes two lectures. The first one, on January 28, is Iconic Intelligence: How Käthe Kollwitz Made Pictures Talk, given by Annette Seeler, curator of Berlin’s Käthe Kollwitz Museum. The second, Käthe Kollwitz: Sharpening the Scythe and the Spark of Revolutionary Consciousness, on March 12, 2020, will be given by Louis Marchessano, senior curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Marchessano is also the editor of a book published by the Getty Research Institute to accompany the exhibition: Käthe Kollwitz Prints, Process, Politics.

A related exhibition, Käthe Kollwitz and the Art of Resistance, will be presented at The Art Institute of Chicago from May 30–September 13, 2020.