Käthe Kollwitz

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Käthe Kollwitz

In north east Berlin, there sits a bronze statue of an old woman at the heart of the square in the Kollwiztkiez district. The district itself has also been named after one of the greatest printmakers and draftswomen of all times; Käthe Kollwitz. The statue was placed there in 1947 two years after Kollwitz’s death, it was a tribute her as one of Germany’s leading artists. Kollwitz’s style comprised of drawing, woodcuts, etching and lithography which was considered very versatile for a female painter. Kollwitz was more than just a great artist; she was also the voice of the common people and the women empowerment movement. Art experts today argue that the term to describe her would be a ‘feisty feminist’. Kollwitz also utilized her art to do the talking from time to time, which is why some of her paintings which may have been considered graphic had the total opposite effect on people. Her work resonated very well with the art world and the general public.

Born Käthe Schmidt in 1867 in Kaliningrad, Prussia in a household where religion and political views were heavily discussed. Kollwitz’s liberal upbringing had a profound impact not just in her art but her views as well. Raised to believe in speaking against in justice and the social system, a common theme amongst most of Kollwitz’s paintings were poverty, hunger, alienation and war. Her work spoke volumes about her thought process. Heavily influenced by Max Klinger, Wilhelm Leibl, and Edvard Munch, Kollwitz’s work echoes the emotionally charged times of her environment. She may have been a little too outspoken for certain people, during Hitler’s tenure she was banned from painting for a few years.  Kollwitz was a diehard Socialist and considered her art to be a means through which people could view the harsh realities of the world, she wanted them to move out of their bubble and actually do something meaningful about the atrocities present in society. Kollwitz picked on topics which other artists dared not too in their work, in her paintings there were scenes of domestic violence, child morality, hunger, disease and portrayed in vivid forms.

Kollwitz’s sketch titled Unemployment draws a bleak picture, the viewer doesn’t know if Kollwitz used her imagination for this work or witnessed a scene and sketched it. The work showcases a family huddled around on a bed, there is a male protagonist in bed – sick to the eye of the viewer with a baby on his stomach and two other kids laying on the bed as well. Kollwitz has also depicted the children in the same dark sick manner, the eyes are drawn to the figure on the left which is a woman sitting on a chair next to bed. Whilst the rest of the individuals have been sketched in a minimal manner, the woman has been thickly sketched in black, almost as if she is hooded. No doubt this it the mother – wife of the other subjects in the sketch. What is fascinating is that it makes the viewer think of her and her mind – what is she thinking / is she already dead and waiting for her husband and children to join her / is she contemplating life without them / does she know she will lose them. These are just a few thoughts that are kick started from laying eyes on a Käthe Kollwitz painting, imagine the effect the rest of her work had and still continues to have on society.

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