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.

German pro-peace artist Kollwitz and the USA


This 13 December 2019 video from Los Angeles in the USA is called KÄTHE KOLLWITZ: PRINTS, PROCESS, POLITICS AT THE GETTY.

By Allan M. Jalon in the USA, 1 December 2019, with photos by the author:

All Roads Lead Back To Käthe Kollwitz

This is the third 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 and here.

In 1971, as America churned with the social movements of the Vietnam era, a 26-year-old activist named Martha Kearns, living in a politically-committed urban commune in Philadelphia, wrote a proposal to a press newly formed to publish books about women by women. Kearns wrote what she refers to as Movement Poetry, but had never attempted a book before. She planned a biography of Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), a German artist whose life of social engagement, existential ups and downs and creative ability, she said recently, offered a natural mirror to “the movements of the time, anti-war, civil rights, also the Women’s Movement.”

She’d seen only a few of Kollwitz’s works, but had been “moved very deeply,” by the artist who was counted by connoisseurs, especially of works on paper and sculpture, among the leading artists in history. Activists and college students in the 1960s honored her for her anti-war images and art about the urban poor. Florence Rosenfeld Howe, a rabbi’s granddaughter whose Feminist Press became a beacon for its time, took the book “instantly”, said Kearns.

Biographer of Kollwitz: Martha Kearns, seen here with a mask at an exhibit of artwork by contemporary Nigerian painter Wole Lagunju, is the author of Kathe Kollwitz: Woman and Artist

Kearns became the first — still, strangely, the only — English-language biographer to address the whole of Kollwitz’s life. In its last pages, Kearns placed a poem by the Jewish-American poet Muriel Rukeyser titled, “Käthe Kollwitz”. With fierce clarity, Rukeyser conveyed Kollwitz’s revealing realism about the world and herself, referring to her many self-portraits, and asking: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?”

This fall, starting on a sunny October morning from New York’s Penn Station, I started to travel to talk with women and men who’ve been especially inspired by Kollwitz. Rukeyser is gone, but I wanted to hear the voices of other writers and artists who I felt might offer a better understanding of her through their eyes.

My final destination, as I write this, will be an exhibition at the Getty Research Institute (GRI), part of the J. Paul Getty Center above the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles. The show — “Käthe Kollwitz: Prints, Process, Politics” — will unveil the collection of Kollwitz works built by Dr. Richard A. Simms that the GRI acquired in 2016. The show of about 100 works (from a total of 654 Kollwitz and Kollwitz-related works Simms collected) is set to open on December 3. It will be the most comprehensive exhibit of Kollwitz’s work in this country since 1992. After Los Angeles, many of the works will travel to the Art Institute of Chicago.

The impulse to hit the road for this piece grew when I was talking with the late Hildegard Bachert, a German Hitler refugee who became a leading dealer of Kollwitz’s work at New York’s Galerie St. Etienne and a friend of Simms. Bachert, then 97, spoke to me that day of the large community of the artist’s devotees, declaring: “Kollwitz people are nice people.”

I’d studied the Kollwitz world enough to know that “nice” had a bigger meaning. Civility is part of the Kollwitz-admiring character. But the word also embraces an artist who responded to the Judeo-Christian Humanist tradition by translating it into secular values. She didn’t teach good conduct, but her skills at turning her instinctive empathy into visual reality set an example in life and art. What follows, are meetings with four such people, including a German-born master puppet-maker who told me how his sense of Kollwitz as an artistic witness connected to his having watched, at 10, a horrific attack in World War II. Another is one of America’s most outstanding print-makers, who explained that she was mindful of Kollwitz’s approaches to the art form they shared when making work inspired by the writings of Franz Kafka. I met a painter from China who revealed that Kollwitz exerted an influence in that country that gave an unintended open view to young Chinese artists under a repressive regime.

The universalist emphasis in Kollwitz’s art gained a second life in how the Kollwitz people I met skipped blithely over distinctions between themselves and others, finding a place where a specific artist’s work speaks to a wide range of people. They told of how their attachment to her was built on differences of religion, race, ethnicity and nationality — but also transcended them.

Kollwitz people tend to live with a lot of music—especially Bach. It became a repeated patch in my crazy-quilt of encounters with fervent people, a journey that started on October 15th, when I boarded Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train in New York’s Penn Station for Philadelphia.

Kearns picked me up at my hotel in the Center City section of Philadelphia. She’s an ebullient 74-year-old woman who stands just over five feet, with pale blue eyes and a propulsive energy that persisted as she drove us through a dense rain and morning traffic.

In her beige-ish (“I call it my golden chariot!”) Honda Accord, we headed off on an hour-and-a-half drive to Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA, where she teaches art history, to see an exhibit of paintings by Wole Lagunju, a contemporary painter from Nigeria that she helped to curate.

As she drove, she moved from describing the “strong social overtones” of Lagunju’s art, to recounting the two experiences that led her to write her book, “Käthe Kollwitz: Woman and Artist”. The first was working with Peter Schumann, the founder of the Bread and Puppet Theater.

Schumann, who recently turned 85, arrived in this country from his native Germany in 1961, having been born a year after Hitler took power and growing up during the war. His dynamic puppet performances drew on European street theater and the Humanist tradition to protest, in startlingly imaginative ways, the traumas of war and race in 1960s America.

Between 1969 and 1971, Kearns made masks and performed with Bread and Puppet, becoming part of a tour through the American South to perform at coffee houses near military bases where soldiers were turning against the Vietnam War.

Schumann, she recalled, spoke of Kollwitz’s impact on him. Kearns said she connected her early feeling for Kollwitz to a Schumann piece called the “Grey Lady Cantata II”, and a short film of it that survives shows a haunting group of war widows — tall, grief-stricken puppets echoing grieving mothers who Kollwitz had re-imagined in various forms after her son, Peter, was killed in World War I.

Bread and Kollwitz: Bread & Puppet founder Peter Schumann holds a loaf of bread and a picture of Kollwitz’s “Brot” poster

“I found myself thinking about Kollwitz a lot in that time,” Kearns said, “after hearing of her from Peter and seeing how his work was definitely Kollwitzian.”

For her and others enveloped in social causes of the time, she said: “We were seeking positive imagery of what we were involved in. We wanted Kollwitz’s art. We were hungry for it. We were trying to create a just world.”

In 1970, she saw a Kollwitz print called “Mary and Elizabeth” in a counter-culture magazine. It showed two pregnant women talking with a closeness that transcended social contact.

“That is it,” she said, as I opened a book of Kollwitz prints, sitting in the passenger seat, trying to hold it steady. “But that’s the lithograph. I saw the woodcut. She did it three times. The woodcut was darker, and what I saw in that Movement magazine was the woodcut.”

Kollwitz people tend to bring to the artist a visceral, tactile eye for the deep contrasting blacks and white she used, and her dramatic shadings between extremes.

“What struck me was that it was very tender and very reverent,” Kearns said. “It was only later that I learned it was religious — secular but religious underneath. What I liked most about it was the blackness, even in the mimeographed reproduction of that magazine.”

Kearns writes in her book about where Kollwitz got her idea for the print: The artist was “greatly moved” by a painting she’d seen at a museum of two pregnant Biblical women, future mothers of Jesus and John the Baptist.

The diary describes the two women as standing “facing one another” holding cloaks they wore open, so that “in their swollen abdomens you see the coming children…”

Kearns wrote of the final, 1928 woodcut as “a visual poem of caring between women.”

Soon after starting her research, Kearns reached out to Hildegard Bachert. “I was young, but Hildegard believed in me,” Kearns said. “She took out all the Kollwitz books she had, between 10 to 20 books. Most were in German. I couldn’t have done the book without her.” The book, published in 1976, was a big seller for the Feminist Press. It sold 17,741 copies, a number Kearns has memorized, even as she reports the book is out of print. It was seen on shelves in many college dorm rooms where cheap copies of Kollwitz prints hung on walls. Artists kept well-thumbed copies in their studios.

Her book, sometimes reviewed along with a shorter biographical study that appeared a year before, was generally well-received when it appeared in 1976. Feminist critics praised it, as did others with social and anti-war views that then drove much of the cultural dialogue.

One reader, Kearns told me, was the late print-maker and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett who Kearns once referred to as “The American Kollwitz.” The highly-regarded Catlett, who was African-American and spent much of her creative life in Mexico, studied Kollwitz’s work and spoke of her feeling for it to Kearns through the years they knew each other.

Kearns said Catlett had told her about the Guerilla Girls, the group of women art activists who continue to seek greater recognition for women artists and roles for women in the art world. One of the Guerilla Girls, who take on the names of women artists they believed are under-recognized, calls herself Käthe Kollwitz.

We finally reached Moravian College’s Payne Gallery, where a number of actual Yoruban tribal masks were showing together with Lagunju’s strong, deftly ironic paintings. The Nigerian-born, North Carolina-based artist paints versions of portraits that glorified the wealth and power of European aristocrats in the so-called Golden Age of Discovery — but with an understanding of the oppression and theft that fueled it. Faces from African tribal masks appear where the European faces would have been.

As we toured the show, Kearns told me the show reflects her efforts to steer students to artists from different backgrounds. Kearns, raised Presbyterian, is very active in an Episcopalian church and previously headed what she called a “faith-based arts ministry” associated with the Methodist Church.”

“Christianity has always played a part of my life but I am a charter member of a Hadassah chapter in Center City,” she said, laughing. By the time Kearns drove me to Philly’s Union Station, still as energetic as at the start of our day, I wanted to learn more about the link between Peter Schumann’s puppetry and Kollwitz. I’d admired his artistic-activist vision since college and I wanted to meet him and hear him speak about what his art gained from hers.

A few days later, I boarded another Amtrak train and took the eight-hour ride to Vermont.

The day after arriving in the Green Mountain State, I drove into its northeast corner. Outside the small town of Glover, I turned up a hill and kept climbing until I saw a red school bus that had been converted into a roadside shop for prints, drawings and posters. Big colorful letters painted on the front advertised: Cheap Art Store.

Magic Bus: This red school bus heralds your arrival to the Bread & Puppet compound, founded by Peter Schumann

I’d reached the Bread and Puppet Theater’s loosely arrayed compound.

The bus’s cheerful offer was a Kollwitz-like message. Working with mass-market printers, she made versions of her art that were inexpensively accessible to the largest number of people. Dr. Simms and other collectors spend a lot of money in pursuit of rare and process-revealing pieces, but many Kollwitz people are drawn to her populist side.

Schumann, the Prospero-like conjurer of Bread and Puppet, the man in whose presence Kearns had felt enveloped by Kollwitz thinking, also made some of the prints sold in the bus. Most are priced at under $20. He makes his group’s performances as close to public events as possible. Free bread is handed out to audience members.

After he opened the door of a sturdy old house, he told me he recalled Kearns well, then pulled out a book about the Bread and Puppet’s history by Stefan Brecht, the son of Bertolt Brecht, with photos of the “Grey Lady Cantata II” and other pieces he said Kollwitz had influenced.

It was lunchtime, and Schumann and his wife, Elka, shared a bowl of their lentil soup. He pulled out a fresh-baked loaf of sourdough rye bread so essential to the Bread and Puppet’s identity. His mother had made bread like this, he told me, in his still-clear German accent.

It was a peasant food universal among the German working classes. He said he was sure Kollwitz had just such bread in mind when she made a poster decrying Depression-era hunger.

It was, he said, the first image of hers he saw just after World War II.

“Brot!” he said. “She put that word on her poster, together with the starving family. The way she combined words with the image for that poster is something I have done in my work.”

Indeed, the combination of visual and verbal experience — also music, sometimes Bach—are as basic to Schumann’s theater pieces and the prints he makes as the bread he ate as a boy.

He described the “war-waging, war-ravaged” Germany where he was five when Hitler’s troops entered Poland in 1939. He came of age in the middle of Allied bombings and told how his family fled them. Among his most dramatic memories was how, at age 10, he watched from a bluff overlooking the Baltic harbor of Lübeck as Allied planes sank the SS Cap Arcona, a German ocean liner that carried both German soldiers and inmates of concentration camps.

The well-documented accounts of the Cap Arcona sinking in 1945, a complex attack that is not well-recalled today, describe one of the most grotesque events of the time.

“I was with my brother, and we were supposed to be inside where it was safe. But we were up on a hill above the harbor and we stayed and watched,” he said. “We were boys and we should not have been there, but we couldn’t pull ourselves away. The next day, the bloated bodies of the victims washed up on the shore. They washed up for days.“

Was his art influenced by his war-time experiences, I asked.

“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s how an artist works, I guess, all that garbage from your life ends up inside of you and it ends up in your work.”

Kollwitz’s work about war-time suffering has long exerted its power on him, he said.

Schumann, who said he first began to closely look at Kollwitz’s work in a museum in the city of Hanover toward the end of the 1940s (it had been banned during the Nazi era) seemed to grow more sharply alert to those memories when he told me about one pose he’d seen in several of her pieces.

“This,” he said, suddenly wrapping one arm over his head and putting a hand over one eye: “This wrapping of herself and holding herself.” I’d seen Kollwitz self-portraits and other works reminiscent of this pose gesture, especially the eye-covering hand. My parents had owned a lithograph with the artist closed into herself.

“What is this wrapping, this self-wrapping, to you? What is she expressing?” I asked Schumann.

“The brain is falling out of your head and you must hold in the pieces,” he said. “One eye is closed in sorrow.”

“Because your experience has been so extreme?”

“Yes,” he said. “This gesture — it is an element of our time. I mean my time and Kollwitz’s time. It is a time you are in and you can’t get yourself out of it. It was her time, but we are impressed, when we see it, by the fact that the human situation is not resolved.

“You would have thought that, after the Nuremberg Trials, after they hung the Nazis, that it would have ended,” he added, in a mournful tone. “But then, people started war-mongering again in the Cold War, removing themselves again from what it meant to be human.”

Schumann led me down the hill from his house to a large barn that serves as a museum for puppets from his plays and pageants. Filling the cavernous interior, which is like a cross between a huge haunted house and Noah’s ark, are countless puppets made of paper maché and other materials of all sizes and shapes. Their faces express political rage, ecstatic celebration, and lamenting sensitivity.

One corridor was given to puppets and other props from Schumann’s drama about the life of Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943). The Berlin-born German-Jewish artist created her masterpiece, a sprawling work of hundreds of visual pieces, while in hiding from the Nazis.

Schumann’s work follows her from childhood through her death in Auschwitz, in 1943. Schumann, who says he grew up “Lutheran-atheist”, has also created works that are critical of Israeli state power in its treatment of Palestinians. He has been strongly criticized for these works, but he told me that, while he regrets offending people’s feelings, he has always risked controversy. “I won’t stop,” he said,

He pointed to the grieving mothers from the work from which Kearns felt gave her the first spark of Kollwitz interest. He gestured to another group of figures high on a wall, which he said appeared in a 1982 piece called, “The Thunderstorm of the Youngest Child.” They had hands wrapped around their heads, pressed to their eyes, the pose he’d enacted.

“Kollwitz?” I asked.

“Kollwitz,” he said. He pointed at other such figures: “She’s there.”

“Kollwitz, but also Rodin. And Michelangelo. There’s a lot of Michelangelo jumping out all over the place in Kollwitz.”

Kollwitz Meets Kafka

On another rainy day, I took a drive amid the mountains and lakes of Vermont to visit Claire Van Vliet.

Claire Van Vliet, Only a Doctor: A 1962 lithograph shows the influence of both Kollwitz and Kafka

The coming year will mark 65 years since Van Vliet founded Janus Press, naming it for the Roman god who could see both the past and the future. She will also celebrate three decades since she received a so-called “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The best way to understand the extent of her varied achievements is to look at a catalogue that carefully details the press’s multi-layered history, published by the University of Vermont Libraries.

It tells a story about the artists, authors, and translators who have worked with Janus since she started it. Since 1966, she’s lived in the tiny Vermont town of Newark. The press has published or co-published over 90 books, more than a dozen broadsides and other work.

The Canadian-born Van Vliet, 86, is highly regarded for what she calls her “wall art”, drawings, prints and pulp paintings, appending pigmented paper pulp onto a handmade paper underlayer to form an image. As a print-maker, she’s worked across traditional techniques that Kollwitz pursued—metal plate etchings to lithography to woodcuts.

I found, in a catalogue occasioned by an extensive 1999 show of Van Vliet’s work that traveled in New England and elsewhere, an interview in which she notes the impact of several artists. “Käthe Kollwitz was the greatest influence for me on how to approach form, particularly in the medium of woodcut,” she said.

Van Vliet lives on a high hill, beside a long, unpaved road and across from a rust-colored mailbox. Woods beyond her grey salt-box house darkly frame a wide-open field, a contemplative setting for a studio with large windows and broad tables for a printer’s work.

A grey, rainy-day light filtered into the space as we sat and spoke of Kollwitz, whose art Van Vliet said she first studied as an art history student at San Diego State University in the early 1950s.

Van Vliet leapt up and returned with a Kollwitz print— “Conspiracy”, the third image (of six) from Kollwitz’s first print cycle, “A Weavers Rebellion,” about a strike by Silesian fabric workers. In the intricately etched print, several men sit at a table in a tavern to plot against their bosses.

Van Vliet found the print in a store in Claremont, CA, in 1952, and said she was so openly moved that the owners gave it to her as a gift. What got her attention?

“Those two forms.” She pointed at the firm-looking, rectangular brightness of the table and the bright long plank of the bench on which the plotters sit. The print embodied the formal strength of how Kollwitz often built contrasts of light and dark, Van Vliet noted.

Van Vliet, raised in the Anglican Church, said she discovered Franz Kafka’s writing in 1961. Spending time in Montreal, subletting a house from a reporter for a Jewish publication who was spending time in Israel, she found his books on a shelf, and was captivated. The Jewish writer from Prague, with his sometimes terrifying, always probing search through consciousness became a catalyst for a lot of her work as both artist and publisher. Her prints and drawings of landscapes in Vermont and elsewhere distill a unique balance of power and delicacy. Still, Ruth Fine, a former curator with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. has described her 30 or so black-and-white Kafka pieces as an “essential part of her output.”

Artist And Inspiration: Claire Van Vliet poses with a Kollwitz print

“Kafka seemed to me, in a very clear way, to portray the state of mind after the Second World War”, Van Vliet said. “Of course, he was writing before that, but it was such a wake-up call for everybody—his whole approach, his sense of futility and of the unexplained world was very powerful, and he really spoke to me.”

Van Vliet showed me “Only a Doctor”, a print that was influenced by Kollwitz as she lllustrated “A Country Doctor”, Kafka’s very unsettling story about a physician who goes to cure a patient with a dramatic and ambiguous wound.

The story culminates in a scene in which the doctor proves useless at his job and stands naked in front of the uncured victim of fate as he lays still with a blanket tucked up to his still chin. The shadows stir with the bristling figures, in Van Vliet’s print, of a vengeful crowd.

The tautly emotional energy that Van Vliet’s work gives to Kafka’s scene owes a clear debt to a woodcut Kollwitz made to honor to Karl Liebknecht, the slain leader of the German Leftist revolution of 1918-1919. In it, Liebknecht’s working class mourning followers surround his corpse.

“The Liebknecht Memorial was very important to me for how to cut, how to approach the form with the knife,” Van Vliet said.

In Montpelier, I stayed in a hotel across from Vermont’s gold-domed statehouse, and read about the city. It was an early hub for Northern New England roads that stretched up into the hills and across dozens of river-crossing bridges. Rt 2 takes you northwest to Lake Champlain in one direction and all the way to Bangor, Maine, in the other. It’s not far to Canada.

By phone, one morning after breakfast, I traveled far across the Vermont state line. Beijing was having dinner at that point, 10 hours ahead, when I rose at 7 am to call a painter named Tian Wei. We’d met two years before at the Getty Research Institute in LA,, where he was an artist in residence. In a soft voice, the lanky artist with a grey-black ponytail had spoken a startling sentence.

With the roads of Montpelier quiet, I called him to hear it again. From across the globe, he obliged: “Käthe Kollwitz was the most significant Western artist for my generation of Chinese artists.”

‘Charge’: In this line etching, dated 1902-03, Kollwitz depicted a scene of rebellion

“We grew up in the harsh Cultural Revolution,” explained Tian Wei, 64, who lived for years in the United States before his recent return to China. “We were only allowed to appreciate certain kinds of artists. She was one of the ones they (political powers) supposed to be a Western example of Social Realism, which they approved of. Her art came out of this revolutionary kind of thing, but she was doing much more than that, and we could see it. Her art was so strong as art. If you see one of her prints, it is imprinted on your mind. It jumped out at us.

Longest Road Through Kollwitzland

Tian started out making figurative art, but became passionate, after arriving in New York in 1986, about Abstract-Expressionism. He explored how traditional Chinese calligraphy and Modernist abstraction could work together, creating his approach today. He acknowledged that, as they look now, his paintings don’t reflect Kollwitz’s stylistic influence. But he said that limiting her impact on him by focusing only on outward appearances would overlook the basic feeling he drew from her:

“Her images are very strong. We responded to this strength in her and we found we could use her influence, her art work, as an example of strength for any kind of art.”

Heading to the southern edge of Vermont, my train stopped in the town of Brattleboro and waited a while amid the fiery colors of a sunny late-October day.

When imagining my trip, I’d hoped to get off there. It was where Bachert had a country home, living among family and friends. She also had an apartment in New York, where she lived as she worked with Jane Kallier, the director of the Galerie St. Etienne during their many years as its co-directors. Last year, at 97, Bachert retired from the gallery and moved full-time to Vermont.

Brattleboro

Kollwitz’s ‘Death’: The artist used a scratch technique for this late 19th Century lithograph

I’d never been to Brattleboro and wondered about Bachert’s country life. I was checking the Amtrak schedule for an overnight stop to visit her before heading farther north into the state, when I got an email from Jane Kallir, telling me that Bachert had died there on October 17.

Her death came as the Galerie St. Etienne was showing the second of three exhibits to celebrate its 80th anniversary. It focused on dealers, like Bachert, who also formed an unusually rich scholarly grasp of artists they represented, and the gallery’s walls held some superb Kollwitzes.

At the gallery’s front desk, one can pick up a copy of Bachert’s biography published by the St. Etienne, which contains a story that follows the general outline of Jewish flight to America as a refugee from Fascism. Like so many, she found haven here but never forgot where she came from.

The memoir’s chapter about her childhood in the city of Mannheim describes her widening awareness of nature and culture (she and her family collected postcards “by artists like Kollwitz”) and then a massive blow on the anvil of history that pulled her world apart:

“The Nazis came to power in 1933, when I was hardly twelve.”

She arrived in New York in 1939 and started at the St. Etienne in November, 1940. Otto Kallir, Jane’s grandfather, had founded the gallery in 1939, the year he also arrived in New York in flight from the Nazis. She played essential roles as the St. Etienne grew into a leading place for art from German-speaking countries. It also pioneered the sale of work by Grandma Moses and other artists. When the Kollwitz collection of Dr. Simms becomes a public exhibition in a few weeks, it will have developed to a notable degree from the relationship between Dr. Simms and Bachert. The St. Etienne sold 69 of the works to Dr. Simms, and he has spoken of how much Bachert taught him about Kollwitz.

He traveled from California to Brattleboro to visit her three times for Passover, he told me. After she retired, he put in a standing order with a local florist to send her flowers once a month, wanting to brighten up her Vermont winters.

As she said, Kollwitz people are nice people. But, again, the word as it applied to her and Dr. Simms went farther.

One wall at the GRI show will include a unique drawing Kollwitz made as she developed a print called, “Das Volk,” or: “The People.” She was working on the seventh image from “War,” a Kollwitz cycle from the early 1920s.

She made several efforts to complete the work, another time the artist seemed to enter a wilderness of possibilities and fight for clarity about her destination.

The drawing, in brush and black ink with white wash and charcoal, shows a group of lost-looking souls in a dark void, wandering. An old woman stares out, directly at the viewer.

She looks much like Kollwitz herself, her eyes open and steady, with an unyielding focus on some kind of serious truth that lives both in herself and the viewer.

Beneath the picture, the wall text will read: “Gift of Dr. Richard A. Simms in honor of Hildegard Bachert.”

“Käthe Kollwitz: Prints, Process, Politics” opens at the Getty Center on December 3, 2019. It runs through March 29, 2020.*

German pro-peace artist Käthe Kollwitz


This video from South Korea says about itself:

From the ashes of war, German artist Kathe Kollwitz uncovers humanity

18 March 2015

Works by a famous German artist who is known for her emotionally powerful artwork are on display here in Seoul.

Our Yim Yoonhee joins us with more about this very moving exhibition.

Käthe Kollwitz created strong images that touched millions of lives around the world for their depictions of people struggling with the poverty and devastation in the aftermath of war.

This is a rare opportunity to see these works.

Have a look.

A mother, desperate to feed and fend for her children in a country ravaged by war.

The image is one of over 50 original works by the 20th century German painter, printmaker and sculptor Käthe Kollwitz that are being shown at the Seoul Museum of Art.

But inside these charcoal sketches, inside the shadows, are hungry children, traumatized mothers,… the victims of poverty and World War I,… people that artist Kollwitz just couldn′t ignore.

“After the war, the remaining families had a very hard time. There was no relief in sight, no counseling and no one to defend them. This artist chose to bring attention to them.”

The exhibition is divided into two parts one dedicted to the squalid lives of members of the working class prior to 1914, while the latter part shows works that illustrate the living hell experienced by people in Germany in the aftermath of World War I.
Kollwitz was a well-recognized and respected artist in the art community, but she went beyond being an artist and contributed to humanity, bringing awareness to those left in the shadows of this world.

What was the artist′s relationship to the war?

Kollwitz was married to a doctor who often tended to the poor, and that greatly affected her career.

In terms of the war, she lost her youngest son to World War I, which you can imagine had a great influence on her works.

Many of her works have names such as “Grieving Parent”, “The Widow” and “The Sacrifice”, so it′s clear that art really became her outlet.

And what legacy does the artist leave behind, other than her works?

There are over 40 German schools named after the artist, but many books, movies and even modern dance pieces have featured characters inspired by Kollwitz.

There are also many statues, some made by Kollwitz herself and some created after her works that are housed at many locations throughout Germany… to commemorate the war and especially its victims.

The artist really brought much-needed attention to all of the unseen suffering during wartime.

By Jenny Farrell in Britain:

An artist of peace and the people

Saturday 7th October 2017

Jenny Farrell pays tribute to the great German artist and sculptor KÄTHE KOLLWITZ

Käthe Kollwitz’s work reflects the events of the first half of the 20th century yet she continues to stand tall among anti-war artists and champions of the dispossessed of the present time.

Kollwitz broke completely with bourgeois aesthetics and made the subjugated and humiliated working class her sole artistic subject. Her work eloquently expresses the force, resistance and humanity of this class. Very often, she focuses on individuals or small groups who exemplify the fate of thousands, balancing their misery with dignity and human kindness.

This year marks the 150th year since her birth in Kaliningrad. The daughter of a bricklayer who recognised his daughter’s artistic talent early on, she was barred from studying art as a woman in her hometown and moved to Berlin and Munich to pursue her education.

There, she met radical artists of her time and married the socialist Karl Kollwitz, a medical doctor who lived among, and treated, the poor of Berlin. Together they dwelled in the then impoverished working-class — now gentrified — Prenzlauerberg district for most of their lives. Here, she gave birth to two sons and created her substantial oeuvre.

Kollwitz’s breakthrough work, which defined her artistic signature, was the cycle The Weavers, inspired by witnessing in 1894 the premiere of Gerhart Hauptmann’s drama of the same name about the uprising of Silesian weavers a half century before.

Over and above connecting present misery with that of the past, Kollwitz focused on resistance against social injustice. Reflecting on this early experience, she noted in her autobiography that the play, research and work on the weavers’ rising was a key event in her artistic development.

The cycle consists of three lithographs — Poverty, Death, and Conspiracy — and three etchings — March of the Weavers, Riot, and The End — with The March of the Weavers becoming Kollwitz’s best-known work.

Käthe Kollwitz, The march of the weavers, 1897

Stirred by her working-class surroundings and involvement, Kollwitz’s second cycle The Peasant War, going back to the German uprising of the 1520s, also centres on the rebellion of the exploited and suppressed against social injustice.

Peasant War is worked in a variety of techniques — etchings, aquatint and soft ground and the cycle is counted among Kollwitz’s greatest achievements.

In one of the images, After the Battle, a mother searches through the dead at night, looking for her son; and the sense of loss and grieving became a central theme in Kollwitz’s work after the death of her son Peter in the early days of WWI.

Käthe Kollwitz, After the battle, 1907

From then on, mothers protecting their children, fighting for their survival and grieving their death became an ever-present motif in Kollwitz’s work. She conveys a profound sense of unspeakable tragedy and of human responsibility to fight against death-spawning militarism and war. The people, the victims, are also those where humanity is found and the only source of resistance.

In 1919, Kollwitz began work on the woodcut cycle War, responding to the tragedies of WWI. Seven images reflect her unspeakable pain. Stark, large-format woodcuts feature the anguish of war. In The Sacrifice, a mother sacrifices her infant, while in The Volunteers Kollwitz depicts her son Peter beside Death, who leads a group of young men to war in a frenzied procession.

Once again eliminating specific references to time or place, Kollwitz created a universal condemnation of such slaughter.

The January 1919 assassination of Karl Liebknecht — sole German parliamentarian to vote against further war loans in the summer of 1914 — by right-wing militias, occasioned her famous woodcut In Memoriam Karl Liebknecht. It is a moving tribute to this communist leader, mourned by the people he represented, who pay their final respects in a shocked, yet gentle fashion.

Kollwitz, Germany's children are starving, 1924

In 1924, Kollwitz created her three most famous posters, Germany’s Children Starving, Bread and Never Again War. After the nazi rise to power, in the mid-1930s, Kollwitz completed Death, her last great cycle of eight lithographs.

More heartbreak was wrought on her in 1942, when her grandson Peter fell victim to Hitler’s war. This death came after that of her husband Karl, who had died of illness in 1940.

Kollwitz died just a few days before WWII ended, on April 22, 1945. She has left us with unforgettable images of the horrific events and epic struggles of her lifetime. Her images remain profound indictments of a system that perpetuates such social injustice and crimes against humanity.

The free exhibition Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz runs at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham until November 26, details: here.

British artists and World War I, exhibition


This video from Berlin, Germany is about Käthe Kollwitz, artist and World War I opponent.

By Tom Pearse in England:

World War I remembered through British art

Truth and Memory at the Imperial War Museum, London, until March 2015

6 September 2014

A major retrospective at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) London features the work of British artists sent to capture the reality of the First World War.

Compelling works reveal how artists helped commemorate “the war to end all wars.” They also highlight the dilemma facing official war artists. While many of the artists started the war at least generally supportive of its aims, they confronted something rather different at the front. Their portrayal of the horrors they witnessed does not always sit uncomfortably with official requirements.

The works are divided between two galleries, Truth—artists who created on the front line; and Memory—artists who painted their works on returning to Britain.

Truth is the more sobering. Visitors are confronted first with two paintings illustrating official British sentiment at the start of the war. William Barnes Wollen’s large Death of the Prussian Guard (1914) presents the first battle of Ypres as a moral triumph over Prussian militarism. Walter Sickert’s Integrity of Belgium, painted late in 1914, endorses support for “gallant little Belgium” in its noble and glamorous depiction of physical warfare.

Both paintings support the justification of British involvement in the war in defence of Belgium and in opposition to German militarism. This propaganda promoted British imperialism at the cost of millions of lives.

The rest of the gallery portrays a very different conflict. Two rooms feature works by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson and Paul Nash, both appointed official war artists in 1917 for the Department of Information.

Nevinson had been associated with the Italian Futurists before the war, collaborating with the movement’s founder Filippo Tommaso Marinetti on a 1914 English Futurist Manifesto: Vital English Art. Marinetti had promised to “glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, [and] the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers.”

Initially, therefore, Nevinson was interested in glorifying the war as a triumph of technical achievement. His style changed after the horrors of the front. The “essence of the new war,” he said, “was overwhelmingly extremely alien, and utterly un-heroic.”

He is best known for La Mitrailleuse [The Machine Gun] (1915), “an example,” in the words of the London Evening News, “of what civilized man did to civilized man in the first quarter of the 20th century.” It does not really stand up to this praise: it shows less of the realities of war than it does a Futurist glorification.

Memory contains a room devoted to the Vorticists, whose manifesto bore some similarities to Futurism, with its call for a “strong, virile and anti-sentimental” art. In Percy Wyndham Lewis’s A Battery Shelled (1919) the soldiers are insect-like stick figures. Lewis likened the First World War to an absurd nightmare, removed from everyday reality. The IWM distanced itself from his work, loaning it out long term to the Tate Gallery.

Percy Wyndham Lewis, A Battery Shelled, 1919

Nevinson’s French Troops Resting and The Doctor (both 1916) show a sympathetic realism. Of the image of a dead child in A Taube (1915), completed in Dunkirk after an air raid, Nevinson said: “there the small body lay before me, a symbol of all that there was to come.”

Nevinson’s depictions of death, like the portrayals of destruction by Paul Nash that hang alongside them, are apocalyptic. Paths of Glory (1917) was banned from public display, as it depicts two putrefying British soldiers lying face down in “no man’s land.”

C.R.W. Nevinson, Paths of Glory, 1917

Another similar picture did not attract the censor. The Irish-born William Orpen’s Dead Germans in a Trench (1918) also shows soldiers putrefying in their trenches. The Times said Orpen “paints the corpse with serene skill, just like he might paint a bunch of flowers.” The censor allowed this painting because, unlike Nevinson’s, it showed enemy corpses.

Orpen was criticized in the press, but achieved popular acclaim for his sympathetic response to what the IWM call “the madness of war.” Works like The Mad Woman of Douai (1918) and Blown Up—Mad (1917) portray its harrowing effects. He depicts trench warfare in grim detail but seems, in the words of his contemporary John Rothenstein, to have “found it difficult … to come to terms with the broader implications of the war.” This is a wider problem here.

Orpen had been associated with the Celtic Revival, seeking artistic expression for an Irish national identity alongside the literary Celtic Twilight movement. Orpen, who went to the front as an official war artist, remained a loyal figure within the British Empire despite his anguish at what he saw of the war. He was knighted by the British crown after the war.

What Orpen saw at the front affected him deeply. Most of his images, some of the most powerful here, come from the Somme. In August 1917 Orpen came across a vast cemetery where British troops had buried their own dead but left the Germans to rot. Like Dead Germans in a Trench, Orpen’s Thiepval (1917) leaves us with a dismal image of mud-baked white and the remains of a British and German soldier, their bones entangled in death.

Such sympathy was often based on personal experience. In “Over the Top”, 1st Artists’ Rifles at Marcoing, 30th December 1917 (1918), John Nash (Paul’s brother) recalls a disastrous action that resulted in the death and wounding of nearly his whole company.

Many of the artists emerge as deeply conflicted. Orpen, for example, despised the post-war vainglory of those military figures who commissioned him for portraits. Despite this, and his own depictions of imperialism’s effects, he was knighted for his war work in June 1918.

Another Irish official war artist represented in the Memory gallery, John Lavery, was also knighted for his work. He painted a portrait of Michael Collins after the pro-Anglo-Irish Treaty Sinn Fein leader’s assassination. Orpen and Lavery both gave the IWM substantial art collections after the war.

Lavery’s Lady Henry’s Crèche, Woolwich (1919) is one of several pieces showing women’s auxiliary work for the war, including Anna Airy’s Shop for Machining 15-inch Shells (1918). Airy, one of the first official women war artists, was employed by the IWM when it was first established. The Museum could refuse any work she produced, without payment.

Anna Airy, Shop for Machining 15-inch Shells: Singer Manufacturing Company, Clydebank, Glasgow, 1918

Memory also marks the memorialisation of the dead. George Clausen’s Youth Mourning (1916), inspired by the death of his daughter’s fiancé the year before, stands as an elegy for a lost generation; a powerful image of grief and sacrifice. Clausen was appointed an official war artist in 1917, but could not travel to the front because of his age.

George Clausen, Youth Mourning, 1916

The most striking work here is the final painting in the Truth gallery, Gassed: In Arduis Fidelis (Faithful in Adversity) by Gilbert Rogers (1918). In stark contrast to Wollen’s work opening the gallery, Rogers hauntingly depicts a dead medical officer lying alone in the mud surrounded by puddles of water. The officer’s gas mask is turned towards the observer, a disturbing image that stays with you.

Gassed: In Arduis Fidelis (Faithful in Adversity) by Gilbert Rogers

The exhibition is significant. The paintings do not just document the conflict. They raise questions about it.

The IWM was first proposed in 1917 as a “national war museum” to document the experiences of World War I. Its remit was extended in 1939 to cover the next world war. During the Korean War coverage was extended to “all conflicts in which British or Commonwealth forces had been involved since 1914.” Since then it has also expanded to run the Royal Air Force museum, the museum on World War Two warship HMS Belfast, and the War Rooms of Winston Churchill. While the IWM can be blunt about certain realities of conflict, it is also an official repository, pushed towards “approved” versions of history.

Like other cultural repositories in Britain, even the flagship museum of the government’s Great War centenary has not been immune to budget cuts. The IWM’s government grant has been reduced significantly, and it relies on private funding more than ever.

It also has to satisfy its 22 trustees, who are appointed variously by the monarch, the prime minister, the foreign secretary, the secretary of state for defence, and the high commissioners of the seven Commonwealth governments. The board currently includes leading military figures like former secret intelligence head Sir John Scarlett, as well as the billionaire Conservative donor Lord Ashcroft. This is a highly political body.

In October 2012 Prime Minister David Cameron opened the centenary campaign at the IWM announcing £50 million of funding, including an upgrade to the museum.

The portrayal in Truth and Memory stops short of analysing the wider implications of what the IWM calls the “epoch-defining events of the First World War.” Its focus, rather, is a sense of ordinary people working together in a difficult but necessary situation without commenting on the reasons. Overall its memorial to British sacrifice fits perfectly with David Cameron’s notions of “Britishness.”

IWM publicity underscores this: “At the turn of the last century, art in Britain held a position and status in society quite different from today and was often regarded as having a social function. In particular, images of warfare imparted notions of identity, culture and morality, enshrining these as the ‘truth’.”

The exhibition’s strengths lie in what it shows of the realities behind such notions. Artists in the current epoch confront the necessity to go further.

The exhibition, which is free of charge, runs until March 8, 2015.

World War I, art exhibition in The Hague


This is a video about German anti-war artist Käthe Kollwitz.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

World War I in art

Thursday, May 29th 2014, 07:25 (Update: 29-05-14, 08:01)

By our reporter Jeroen Wielaert

The craters, soldiers with gas masks, a clenched fist with the caption No More War. They are moving drawings about the First World War. Historical documents by Otto Dix and Käthe Kollwitz, part of the collection of the Gemeentemuseum, along with lesser-known Dutch work. Hell opens on Ascension Day, in the Berlage Cabinet of the The Hague museum. The exhibition is called simply “The Great War in pictures”.

Otto Dix was a German soldier; still optimistically, he entered the war and came out of it full of grim specters. He made numerous striking drawings about it. In The Hague there are only a few to see, but they all impress strongly, as critical hits full of commentary on the war.

Käthe Kollwitz lost a son already early in the war. He was killed in Flemish Diksmuide. On her posters she protested vehemently against the violence and its consequences. She drew widows, begging children. [Museum director] Tempel: “She campaigned against war, as if she sensed there would be another one.”

The Netherlands

The First World War in the Netherlands was very palpable, despite the neutral stance of the government. The artist Jan Toorop, who lived in Domburg in Zeeland, saw refugees from Belgium there and heard their stories. In pastel, he made an impressive picture of people in disaster, in a bombed city: Belgique Sanglante, Bleeding Belgium .

The Hague contemporary artist Harald [sic; Harold] de Bree leaves a little more to the imagination. A collage of him in the exhibition shows the barrel of a gun, a photograph of an internment barracks, a noose for strangling and a few strips of barbed wire.

Skulls

One wall is covered with front pages of the magazine De Nieuwe Amsterdammer. Piet van de [sic; der] Hem drew in April 1915 a skull with a long nose from which a gas stream descends into a trench full of soldiers.

Tempel also points to the hourglass on the cover of the magazine’s New Year edition. Skulls start to roll again, with the caption: “We start again from scratch.”

It is a century later, there is fighting in many places; war has not been eradicated yet.

See also here.

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Dutch general praises jihad in Syria, World War I


This video from Britain says about itself:

Afghanistan Drone War: protest held outside British airforce base used in Afghan drone war

29 April 2013

In scenes reminiscent of the anti-nuclear weapons marches in the UK decades ago, around 400 peace and justice campaigners descended on a Lincolnshire RAF base in east England after it was confirmed by the Ministry of Defence that the military compound is being used by the airforce as a launchpad for drone missions over Afghanistan.

General Peter van Uhm in 2008-2012 was commander-in-chief of the Dutch armed forces. Which then, as now, were involved in war in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Now, retired General Van Uhm has expressed sympathy for confused Dutch teenagers going to the bloody war in Syria. Boys who often end up there in fanatically religious sectarian paramilitary organisations, with big chances of getting disabled or killed. Or girls, who may end up as ‘religious military prostitutes‘, and have big chances of getting disabled or killed too.

Why are these Dutch teenagers (and teenagers from other countries) so confused that they end up in Syria?

In the Netherlands (and other NATO countries) mainstream media and politicians often depict the regime in the Syrian capital as the only cause of bloodshed in the country, by default depicting all armed oppositionists as freedom fighters. Last summer, Syria (like happened to Yugoslavia, Iraq, etc. before) in war propaganda became ‘the new nazi Germany’; worth of risking the start of World War III for, according to neoconservative ideologists. Fortunately, a nuclear World War III then did not start about Syria. Mass popular opposition led to unexpected defeat for David Cameron’s war-minded government in the British House of Commons. Let us hope that plans to use the crisis in Ukraine to start a nuclear world war will go the same way.

Meanwhile, the CIA and other governmental organisations in NATO countries, and in Arabian peninsula absolute monarchies allied with NATO, keep arming sectarian paramilitary groups in Syria. So, if a foreign teenage boy goes to fight in Syria, then he may claim with some justification that he does things similar to his government’s.

There is still another cause sending confused teenagers to Syria. In the Netherlands (and more or less similarly so in other western countries), most of these young people are from immigrant worker families from Islamic countries. Every now and then, xenophobic bigotry, sometimes against all immigrants, sometimes especially against Muslim immigrants, sometimes especially against Muslim immigrants from Morocco, gets rampant among Dutch media and politicians. If you are a young person in the Netherlands and you’re not white, then it’s harder to get a good job, or any job. If you would like to go to a discotheque, then a doorman may stop you because of the colour of your skin. The xenophobic Islamophobic PVV party of Geert Wilders, allies of the French neo-fascist National Front and other extreme Right parties in Europe, recently was more or less officially part of the Dutch government (they had an agreement, giving them influence on government policies, to prop up a minority right-wing coalition administration).

While, as we saw, media and politicians in the Netherlands (and in other NATO countries … and in Qatar and other Arab Peninsula dictatorial allies of the self-styled “Free World”) on the one hand often depict sectarian war against the Syrian regime as “good war”; on the other hand they often depict confused teenagers joining that “good” war as criminal dangerous terrorists. Police and secret services spy on them and arrest them. Recently, a boy from Amsterdam was jailed for “preparing” to join the war in Syria.

That is one face of the Dutch official establishment.

Now, back to another face of the Dutch establishment; General van Uhm. Translated from Dutch daily De Volkskrant of today:

Ex-Commander Van Uhm: respect for people going to war in Syria

By: Janny Groen – 05.05.14, 06:02

General (retired) Peter van Uhm respects Dutch people joining the war in Syria because they stand up for their ideals. According to him, these young people ‘in one way or another think that they need to make the world a better place.” He does not share their ideology.

Van Uhm said that in the radio documentary “Lost sons – a century at war”, which aired last night on Radio 1. In this program the former commander of the armed forces traveled to [World War I] military cemeteries in Flanders Fields in Belgium to find an answer to the question: should we be proud or grieve for young men who go to war?

In principle, we should be proud, Van Uhm says, at least if they are going to war because of pure idealism. In Syria, for example, against the oppressor Assad to end the suffering of women and children. …

Van Uhm’s condoning of people going to war in Syria is remarkable. His son, First Lieutenant Dennis van Uhm, in April 2008 at the age of 23 was killed in Afghanistan in an attack with an ‘Islamic’ roadside bomb. …

In the documentary, Van Uhm was confronted with the work of the German sculptress Käthe Kollwitz, whose son was killed in the First World War. Both the military father and artistic mother tried to make sense of the loss of their sons, but they drew different conclusions. Kollwitz wants ‘no more war’. Van Uhm continues to respect ‘young people who stick their necks out for a better world, while – if they are unlucky – they die.’

Kollwitz, Never Again War

If General Van Uhm disagrees with Käthe Kollwitz about World War I, then one may ask: does he think that war for German Emperor Wilhelm II, in which Ms Kollwitz’s son Peter died, was a worthy cause? Should the German empire have won World War I? On, on the contrary, were the German armed forces the bad guys, and their Allied opponents the good guys? Propagandists for present day militarism can’t have that both ways, though sometimes, they seem to try.

How many Dutch youngsters will interpret General Van Uhm’s words as an encouragement to depart to the bloody war in Syria? How many of them will die? How many will become disabled, physically, psychically, or both, for life? How many will get harsh governmental punishments for being ‘terrorists’? How many will really become terrorists after returning from hell in Syria?

LARGE numbers of people have been forced to flee the Iraqi city of Mosul after Islamist militants from the ISIS pro-Al Qaeda group effectively took control of parts of the city: here.

The fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), a group from which even Al Qaeda has broken because of its excessive violence and sectarian fanaticism, constitutes a searing indictment of the crimes carried out by US imperialism in Iraq and throughout the Middle East: here.

Käthe Kollwitz anti-war art New York exhibition


From the Huffington Post in the USA:

Käthe Kollwitz‘ Prints Heading To Brooklyn Museum For Rare Exhibition (PHOTOS)

Posted: 01/04/2013 10:35 am EST  |  Updated: 01/04/2013 11:49 am EST

As far as badass female artists go, they don’t get much better than Käthe Kollwitz. An upcoming exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum will present 13 rare prints from her “Krieg” (“War”) cycle.

During her career, the German artist (1867-1945) fluctuated between naturalism and expressionism in her empathetic depictions of humankind. Her visceral chronicle death, starvation, poverty and families torn apart by conflict. The emotional intensity of the works stems from Kollwitz’s personal experience with loss and depression, since her son Peter was killed in the opening days of World War One.

Kollwitz was initially unable to attend art school despite her budding talent because she was a woman, and persisted to become one of the most important German artists of the 20th century. In drawings, etchings and woodcut prints, the artist combines political pacifism and feminism in rough depictions that foreshadow contemporary street artists à la Swoon.

Käthe Kollwitz

Käthe Kollwitz (German, 1867–1945). The Mother (Die Mütter), 1922–23. Woodcut on heavy Japan paper, 18 13/16 x 25 9/16 in. (47.8 x 64.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Carl H. de Silver Fund, 44.201.6. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Käthe Kollwitz

Käthe Kollwitz (German, 1867–1945). The Widow I (Die Witwe I), 1922–23. Woodcut on heavy Japan paper, 26 x 18 11/16 in. (66 x 47.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Carl H. de Silver Fund, 44.201.4. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonnkollwitz brooklyn

Käthe Kollwitz (German, 1867–1945). Self Portrait (Selbstbildnis), 1927. Lithograph on thin China paper, 24 7/8 x 17 15/16 in. (63.2 x 45.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum Collection Fund, 39.15. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst,Bonn

“Käthe Kollwitz: Prints from the ‘War’ and ‘Death’ Portfolios” will run from March 15 until September 15, 2013, at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Kollwitz’s impact on the future of women in art remains relevant to this day, as evident in the feminist group the Guerilla Girls, whose founder dons Kollwitz’s name as a pseudonym.

German anti war artist Käthe Kollwitz


Kollwitz, Never Again War

German artist Käthe Kollwitz, often included in the Expressionist movement, was born on 8 July 1867; in Königsberg (then in the German empire, today, Kaliningrad in Russia).

Her father had studied law.

However, being a non-conformist Protestant not belonging to the Lutheran state church, he was not allowed to be a lawyer.

The same dilemma which Karl Marx‘ father had faced decades earlier.

Heinrich Marx had solved that by changing his religion from Judaism to official Protestantism in order to be able to practice his profession; his wife Henriette, whom he had married in the synagogue of Nijmegen in The Netherlands, never changed.

Käthe Kollwitz‘s father Carl Schmidt also did not change his religion.

Which meant that he had to change his profession to mason.

Carl Schmidt supported his daughter when she wanted to become an artist.

In 1886, she saw paintings by Rubens in Munich, which impressed her much.

Next year, she became engaged to a member of Karl Marx’ party, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (banned by the government then). Her fiancé was the student of medicine, later doctor, Karl Kollwitz.

The novel Germinal, on workers by the French realist author Emile Zola, influenced Käthe’s art.

So did German playwright Gerhart Hauptmann. Hauptmann inspired her graphics on rebelling weavers.

In 1891, she married Karl Kollwitz.

Käthe Kollwitz

Also after her marriage, she continued to sign her work with K(äthe) S(chmidt), as in the self-portrait from 1906 shown here.

They went to live in Berlin, where Karl became a doctor in a poor working class neighbourhood.

In 1898, the jury at an art exhibition wanted to honour Käthe with a medal, for her graphics on the weavers’ uprising.

However, Emperor Wilhelm II did not want any honours for this artist, rebellious in both form and subject.

In 1898, Käthe Kollwitz got permission to be a teacher at her old art school. It was a school for women only, who were taught separately from male students.

In 1899, she participated in the first ever exhibition of the “Berliner Secession“, for artists, hated by the emperor. Their non-conformism meant they were refused at official art exhibitions.

In 1904, she learned sculpture in Paris, visiting the workplaces of Auguste Rodin and others.

In 1906, she made a poster for an exhibition on house industries.

The Empress Auguste Viktoria refused to visit the exhibition because of who made the poster. Also because Kollwitz‘s poster showed a woman worker, clearly suffering from bad conditions.

Only after lots of paper and glue had removed Käthe’s posters from sight, Her Imperial Majesty visited the exhibition.

Next year, Kollwitz was in Florence in Italy. From there, she walked to Rome, reaching it after three weeks.

From 1908 to 1910, she worked for satirical magazine Simplizissimus, mocking in her caricatures the oppression of workers in Wilhelm II’s empire.

In 1912, she made a poster on the miserable housing situation in East Berlin.

The authorities banned it.

In 1913, there was a split in the “Berliner Secession” between old artistic vanguardists who had become sort of a new establishment themselves, and the rebels, who became the “Freie Secession”.

Käthe Kollwitz, though 46 by now, sided with the latter. She went from the executive of the “old” Secession to the executive of the new “free” Secession.

In the same year, she also joined the executive of the newly founded women artists’ association, as chair.

In the next year, the First World War broke out.

Also among many socialists, whose international congresses had decided that war should be fought by workers’ strikes, the wave of nationalist hysteria accompanying the outbreak of the war did have at least some effects.

Käthe Kollwitz’s eighteen year old son Peter volunteered to be a soldier.

Shortly afterward, he died at the front in Diksmuide in Belgium.

His mother became very depressed.

Then, Käthe Kollwitz decided to strongly oppose war, also in her artistic work.

On 30 October 1918, the Social Democratic party daily, Vorwärts, published an anti-war letter by Kollwitz.

The war was going badly for the German empire.

Like in the Bush empire concerning Iraq in 2007, some people, including Tony Blair, claimed “final victory” was still possible, with a final “surge“, some Germans then still proclaimed that the emperor’s armies would win.

Kollwitz’ letter opposed this.

She wrote: “Es ist genug gestorben! Keiner darf mehr fallen.

Ich berufe mich gegen Richard Dehmel auf einen Größeren, welcher sagt: ‘Saatfrüchte sollen nicht vermahlen werden.”

[Enough people have died!

Nobody should die any more.

Against [German militarist author] Richard Dehmel, I base myself on a greater [poet; meaning Goethe], who says: ‘You should not grind down seed bearing fruits’].

Now, on a much more dramatic scale than Kollwitz’ artistic home, the Secession, before the war, her political home, Social Democracy, split into Left and Right wings.

The Right wing allied itself with Rightist paramilitary groups, many of whom would later join Hitler’s nazi party, against the Left wing, which would become the Communist Party.

In 1919, the paramilitarists murdered Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, the Leftist leaders.

At the request of Liebknecht’s family, Käthe Kollwitz made his portrait in the mortuary.

Käthe Kollwitz, Memorial for Liebknecht

In spite of sympathies, she never joined the Communist Party.

In 1924, ten years after the beginning of the war, at the request of the international trade union movement, she made her famous poster: The Survivors. Fight war, not wars.

Krieg dem Kriege, by Käthe Kollwitz

In the same year, she also made a poster for women’s rights on abortion. As well as fighting for women’s rights on abortion, she also fought for gay rights.

Just before Hitler came to power, Kollwitz called for anti nazi cooperation between Social Democrat and Communist parties.

One of the nazis’ first acts was to expel her from the Prussian Academy of Fine Arts.

No longer could she teach at the Academy, where she had been the first female professor.

The temporary bans on her work in Wilhelm II’s Second Empire became a permanent ban in Hitler’s Third Reich.

In 1936, the Moscow daily paper Isvestija interviewed Käthe Kollwitz on the reality under Hitler’s reign of terror.

When the nazis found out, she was immediately subjected to a Gestapo interrogation.

One more ‘false’ move, she was told, and off to a concentration camp with you.

Though it could not be exhibited, Käthe Kollwitz continued making anti militarist art until she died.

In 1937, Kollwitz’s work was included in the infamous Degenerate Art exhibition organized by the nazi regime.

In 1943, her house, with much of her work inside, and her son’s house were destroyed in the air war.

On 22 April 1945, just before liberation from Hitler, Käthe Kollwitz died.

In Cologne, there is the Käthe Kollwitz museum; where much of the information for this article comes from.

There is also a Käthe Kollwitz museum in Berlin.

And in Moritzburg.

Quotes by Käthe Kollwitz:

“Every war already carries within it the war which will answer it.

Every war is answered by a new war, until everything, everything is smashed.

That is why I am wholeheartedly for a radical end to this madness, and why my only hope is in world socialism. … Pacifism simply is not a matter of calm[ly] looking on; it is work, hard work.”

“I am in the world to change the world.”

“One day, a new idea will arise and there will be an end to all wars. I die convinced of this. It will need much hard work, but it will be achieved.”

“Where do all the women who have watched so carefully over the lives of their beloved ones get the heroism to send them to face the cannon?

I am afraid that this soaring of the spirit will be followed by the blackest despair and dejection.

The task is to bear it not only during these few weeks, but for a long time – in dreary November as well, and also when spring comes again, in March, the month of young men who wanted to live and are dead.”

Also on Kollwitz: here.

And here.

Works by Kollwitz on-line: here.

German expressionist Karl Hofer: here.

German sculptor Barlach and war: here.

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