Käthe Kollwitz

Left: Self-Portrait. 1924. Woodcut. Private collection.

Right: Käthe Kollwitz. Photograph.


All Good Art is Political

Käthe Kollwitz and Sue Coe

October 26, 2017 - March 10, 2018

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 11, 2017 - October 13, 2017

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 12, 2016 - October 7, 2016

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 21, 2015 - October 16, 2015

Alternate Histories

Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Galerie St. Etienne

January 15, 2015 - April 11, 2015

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 15, 2014 - September 26, 2014

Modern Furies

The Lessons and Legacy of World War I

January 21, 2014 - April 12, 2014

* Käthe Kollwitz

The Complete Print Cycles

October 8, 2013 - December 28, 2013

Recent Acquisitions

And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market

July 9, 2013 - September 27, 2013

Face Time

Self and Identity in Expressionist Portraiture

April 9, 2013 - June 28, 2013

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 17, 2012 - October 13, 2012

The Lady and the Tramp

Images of Women in Austrian and German Art

October 11, 2011 - December 30, 2011

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 5, 2011 - September 30, 2011

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 13, 2010 - October 1, 2010

* Käthe Kollwitz

A Portrait of the Artist

April 13, 2010 - June 25, 2010

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 24, 2008 - September 26, 2008

Hope or Menace?

Communism in Germany Between the World Wars

March 25, 2008 - June 13, 2008

Transforming Reality

Pattern and Design in Modern and Self-Taught Art

January 15, 2008 - March 8, 2008

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 5, 2007 - September 28, 2007

More Than Coffee was Served

Café Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna and Weimar Germany

September 19, 2006 - November 25, 2006

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 6, 2006 - September 8, 2006

* Coming of Age

Egon Schiele and the Modernist Culture of Youth

November 15, 2005 - January 7, 2006

Recent Acquisitions

And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market

June 7, 2005 - September 9, 2005

Every Picture Tells a Story

The Narrative Impulse in Modern and Contemporary Art

April 5, 2005 - May 27, 2005

65th Anniversary Exhibition, Part I

Austrian and German Expressionism

October 28, 2004 - January 8, 2005

Sue Coe: Bully: Master of the Global Merry-Go-Round and Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 8, 2004 - October 16, 2004

Body and Soul

Expressionism and the Human Figure

October 7, 2003 - January 3, 2004

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 24, 2003 - September 12, 2003

* Käthe Kollwitz:

Master Printmaker

October 1, 2002 - January 4, 2003

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 25, 2002 - September 20, 2002

Workers of the World

Modern Images of Labor

April 2, 2002 - June 15, 2002

The "Black-and-White" Show

Expressionist Graphics in Austria & Germany

September 20, 2001 - November 10, 2001

Recent Acquisitions (And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 26, 2001 - September 7, 2001

Art with an Agenda

Politics, Persuasion, Illustration and Decoration

April 10, 2001 - June 16, 2001

The Tragedy of War

November 16, 2000 - January 6, 2001

The Expressionist City

September 19, 2000 - November 4, 2000

Recent Acquisitions (And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 20, 2000 - September 8, 2000

From Façade to Psyche

Turn-of-the-Century Portraiture in Austria & Germany

March 28, 2000 - June 10, 2000

Saved From Europe

In Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Galerie St. Etienne

November 6, 1999 - January 8, 2000

The Modern Child

(Images of Children in Twentieth-Century Art)

September 14, 1999 - November 6, 1999

Recent Acquisitions

(And a Look at Sixty Years of Art Dealing)

June 15, 1999 - September 3, 1999

* Becoming Käthe Kollwitz

An Artist and Her Influences

November 17, 1998 - December 31, 1998

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts About Looted Art)

June 9, 1998 - September 11, 1998

Recent Acquisitions

A Question of Quality

June 10, 1997 - September 5, 1997

Käthe Kollwitz - Lea Grundig

Two German Women & The Art of Protest

March 25, 1997 - May 31, 1997

Breaking All The Rules

Art in Transition

June 11, 1996 - September 6, 1996

From Left to Right

Social Realism in Germany and Russia, Circa 1919-1933

September 19, 1995 - November 4, 1995

Recent Acquisitions

June 20, 1995 - September 8, 1995

On the Brink 1900-2000

The Turning of Two Centuries

March 28, 1995 - May 26, 1995

Three Berlin Artists of the Weimar Era: Hannah Höch, Käthe Kollwitz, Jeanne Mam

September 13, 1994 - November 5, 1994

Art and Politics in Weimar Germany

September 14, 1993 - November 6, 1993

Recent Acquisitions

June 8, 1993 - September 3, 1993

The Dance of Death

Images of Mortality in German Art

January 19, 1993 - March 13, 1993

* Käthe Kollwitz

In Celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the Artist's Birth

September 15, 1992 - November 7, 1992

Scandal, Outrage, Censorship

Controversy in Modern Art

January 21, 1992 - March 7, 1992

The Expressionist Figure

September 10, 1991 - November 9, 1991

Recent Acquisitions

Themes and Variations

May 14, 1991 - August 16, 1991

Recent Acquisitions

June 12, 1990 - August 31, 1990

Max Klinger, Käthe Kollwitz, Alfred Kubin

A Study in Influences

March 27, 1990 - June 2, 1990

The Narrative in Art

January 23, 1990 - March 17, 1990

The Galerie St. Etienne

A History in Documents and Pictures

June 20, 1989 - September 8, 1989

Fifty Years Galerie St. Etienne: An Overview

February 14, 1989 - April 1, 1989

Recent Acquisitions and Works From the Collection

June 14, 1988 - September 16, 1988

Three Pre-Expressionists

Lovis Corinth Käthe Kollwitz Paula Modersohn-Becker

January 26, 1988 - March 12, 1988

* Käthe Kollwitz

The Power of the Print

November 17, 1987 - January 16, 1988

Recent Acquisitions and Works From the Collection

April 7, 1987 - October 31, 1987

Käthe Kollwitz/Paula Modersohn-Becker

January 28, 1986 - March 15, 1986

The Art of Giving

December 3, 1985 - January 18, 1986

Expressionists on Paper

October 8, 1985 - November 23, 1985

Expressionist Printmaking

Aspects of its Genesis and Development

April 1, 1985 - May 24, 1985

Early and Late

Drawings, Paintings & Prints from Academicism to Expressionism

June 1, 1983 - September 2, 1983

* Käthe Kollwitz

The Artist as Printmaker

September 28, 1982 - November 6, 1982

Aspects of Modernism

June 1, 1982 - September 3, 1982

The Human Perspective

Recent Acquisitions

March 16, 1982 - May 15, 1982

* Kollwitz: The Drawing and The Print

May 1, 1980 - June 10, 1980

* Käthe Kollwitz

December 1, 1976

* Käthe Kollwitz

February 3, 1971

* Käthe Kollwitz

In the Cause of Humanity

October 23, 1967

* Käthe Kollwitz

May 1, 1965

Group Show

October 15, 1962

* Käthe Kollwitz

November 11, 1961

* Käthe Kollwitz

December 14, 1959

European and American Expressionists

September 22, 1959

* Käthe Kollwitz

January 12, 1959

* Käthe Kollwitz

April 16, 1956

* Käthe Kollwitz

October 25, 1951

* Tenth Anniversary Exhibition

Part I

November 30, 1949

* Käthe Kollwitz


October 18, 1948

* Käthe Kollwitz

October 4, 1947

* Käthe Kollwitz

Memorial Exhibition

November 21, 1945

* Käthe Kollwitz

Part II

October 26, 1944

* Käthe Kollwitz

Part I

November 3, 1943

Saved from Europe

Masterpieces of European Art

July 1, 1940


An Artist and Her Influences

November 17, 1998 - December 31, 1998


Barlach, Ernst

Cranach the Elder, Lucas

Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig

Klinger, Max

Kollwitz, Käthe

Millet, Jean François

Munch, Edvard

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn



Artistic development seldom proceeds in a vacuum, but modernist mythmakers have tended to stress iconoclastic individualism over shared influences. The great (and largely male) modernists, we are told, broke decisively with the past, dispensing in the process with a vast, stale tradition of literary-historical painting and the musty academic methods that went along with it. Amidst this tremendous stampede of iconoclasts, it is ironically Käthe Kollwitz (1867--1945) who emerges as the nonconformist, for unlike many of her male colleagues, she devoted her life to exploring a broad array of long-established visual motifs. In so doing, however, Kollwitz did not merely recapitulate the past, but used it to forge an idiom that was distinctly her own and of her time; that was, in other words, both original and modern.


The story of how the young Käthe Schmidt--plagued by gnawing self-doubt but blessed with an exceptionally supportive father and later an equally sympathetic husband--became the great artist Käthe Kollwitz is the focus of the present exhibition. Like all women of her generation, Käthe Schmidt was forbidden entrance to the German academies, and instead she attended the School for Women Artists in Berlin--an acceptable but distinctly inferior substitute. Her desire to master classical iconography, complex pictorial narratives and realistic rendering techniques may in part be attributed to a desire to make good the lapses in her education: It was, as a rule, difficult for female artists at the turn of the century to reject an academic system they had never been privileged to experience. However, as Kollwitz gradually developed her own artistic voice, it became evident that many aspects of the classical tradition were uniquely suited to her purposes. From these sources, as well as from more contemporary influences, she developed a repertoire of forms and themes that not only perfectly expressed her socially-oriented messages, but could be readily understood by her public.


Although Kollwitz did not consider herself to be particularly religious, both her father and her maternal grandfather had been leaders of a liberal Protestant sect, and the artist was thus well acquainted with the liturgy. Much of her work is informed by Christian iconography, especially by such subjects as the Madonna and the Pietà. It is not surprising that Kollwitz chose images which encapsulate in sacred terms the universal human experiences of birth and death to deal with those same themes from a secular perspective. Of these Christian subjects, it is the Pietà and the closely related Lamentation of Christ which are most deeply ingrained in Kollwitz's early work, and through which one can therefore best study the evolution of her approach.


Much has been written about the iconography of the 1896 etching You Bleed from Many Wounds, Oh People! (checklist no. 22) and its slightly later incarnation in The Downtrodden (checklist no. 29). The figure of the slain male in these works has a venerable history dating back to Hans Holbein's 1522 painting of the prone Christ, but including as well more recent reworkings by such artists as Max Klinger, Franz von Stuck and Constantin-Emile Meunier. The relative secularization of Christ's death by the latter group of nineteenth-century artists served both to give the subject a vital contemporary context and to give contemporary loss a sacred spiritual grounding. In Kollwitz's two etchings, however, the corpse has become a symbolic body of the "people," whose struggle for justice is likened by association to the sufferings of Christ. Most curious is the transformation of the mourning figure characteristic of a traditional Lamentation or Pietà into a kind of avenging angel, who bends over the body with sword in hand. In the evolution of this avenger from a symbolic figure to a specific one over the course of the next years, one can trace not only Kollwitz's developing artistic methodology, but her changing attitude toward revolution.


As indicated by You Bleed from Many Wounds and The Downtrodden, and by the desultory endings of her first two narrative print cycles, the Revolt of the Weavers (1893-98; see checklist nos. 23-26) and the Peasants' War (1902-08; see checklist nos. 32, 37, 39, 40), Kollwitz was always aware that the fight for justice entailed suffering, yet she did not in these early works question the necessity of the fight. Her revolutionary fervor came to be embodied by the "avenging angel," who during this period assumes a more distinctive personality and a more active role in the artist's work. In her 1899 etching Revolt (a bridge between the Weavers and the Peasants' War; checklist no. 27), the avenger has been transformed into the allegorical spirit of rebellion (recalling Delacroix's renowned painting of Liberty Leading the People in the French Revolution). But in the Peasants' War cycle, she is a real woman, or more accurately, several women, who appear first as leaders and finally as a survivor.


As Kollwitz's avenger acquires greater realism in the Peasants' War etchings, however, the reality of loss also becomes more palpable, offsetting the brave gestures of the cycle's early scenes. Setting up the plot of her narrative, Kollwitz was initially interested in capturing the pivotal moment when oppression finally provokes action, and she looked to classical depictions of divine intervention when crafting her 1905 etching Inspiration (checklist no. 38). However, she dispensed with the deus ex machina in the final version of this subject, Sharpening the Scythe (checklist no. 37), choosing instead to personify her theme in the face of a brooding woman, who clutches a symbolic scythe: the tool about to turn weapon. The central character and true-to-life heroine of the Peasants' War is "Black Anna," whose incarnation in the etching Uprising (checklist no. 32) was loosely drawn from a history-book illustration. In the penultimate plate of the cycle, Battlefield (checklist no. 40), Kollwitz returned to the theme of the Lamentation, this time presented in a far more realistic context than in You Bleed from Many Wounds. Now the mourner, viewed frontally, is a mother searching for (and finding) her dead son. Only the glow which distinguishes these figures from among the many other victims of the slaughter alludes to any sort of divine oversight; otherwise, the prospects for revolutionary justice seem bleak.


Kollwitz's use of symbolism had lightened considerably between the time of You Bleed from Many Wounds and the execution of Sharpening the Scythe, and the practice would gradually disappear almost entirely from her work. However, subtle allusions to classical and especially religious prototypes continued to endow even the quite straightforward, realistic images of her later years with profound undercurrents of meaning. As Kollwitz grew older, she abandoned the sort of complex literary- and history-based scenarios essayed in the Weavers and Peasants' War in favor of simpler, more iconic compositions. This development, too, was indirectly a legacy of the Symbolist movement, which was less interested in formulating blunt allegorical equivalencies than in finding subtle visual correlatives for emotional states. Edvard Munch's anxious souls and the pondering figure made world-famous by Rodin's Thinker find echoes in the introspective, resigned and sometimes visibly suffering women who recur throughout Kollwitz's oeuvre (see checklist nos. 21, 36, 41, 47, 49). The combination of these emotionally-laden figures in groupings with Biblical or historical undertones generates a potent double impact.


Beyond its various aesthetic influences, the content of Kollwitz's work was decisively shaped by the artist's experiences of motherhood and by the death of her younger son Peter in the early months of World War I. It is telling that most of Kollwitz's Pietàs (several of which chillingly used Peter as a model) were done before the boy's death (see checklist nos. 33, 34). Conversely, the rare "happy Kollwitzes" that allude to traditional Madonna-with-child compositions are more common after World War I (see checklist nos. 43, 45, 57). In the earlier period, Kollwitz had not yet tasted the effects of real battle and was still inclined to idealize the sacrifice intrinsic to revolution. As her post-war work indicates, she subsequently came to believe more in the protective strength of the mother than in the sacrifice of the son. Revisiting the subject of the Lamentation in her 1919 woodcut memorial to the murdered Communist agitator Karl Liebknecht (checklist no. 46), Kollwitz chose to focus on the mourners. It easy to understand why the Communist Party denounced the woodcut for its inert portrayal of their now impotent leader.


By the 1920s, Kollwitz had achieved an apparently effortless (but in fact hard-earned) mastery of her mediums and sources. Current as well as historical events, personal experiences and Biblical prototypes all merged seamlessly in her prints to create a running commentary on the human condition. In part by studying the work of earlier masters, she had refined a vocabulary of basic expressive poses and gestures capable of conveying exceedingly complicated feelings. With the Liebknecht memorial and a number of subsequent woodcuts, she also made a belated foray into the realm of Expressionism. Inspired especially by Ernst Barlach, she hoped that the bold, block forms of woodcut would simultaneously simplify and strengthen her messages. Although Kollwitz created some quintessential anti-war imagery during this period, her overall attitude toward death became increasingly ambivalent as she aged. The hand of God which once incited revolution in Inspiration returns to summon the artist home in her 1934-35 lithograph Call of Death (checklist no. 58). A prominent leitmotif of her last print series, Death, is acceptance.


It was not death itself that Kollwitz identified as her enemy, but the injustice of life squandered and death prematurely meted out. Never an ideologue and no longer a youthful idealist, she had long ago abandoned faith in a radically transformative revolution. Redemption would come neither from God nor from human sacrifice, and violence could not be fought with violence. Kollwitz rather put her hope in innate human decency and the will to survive. In her final print, Grain for Sowing Must Not be Milled (checklist no. 59), a mother (modeled on the so-called Schutzmantel-Madonna or Virgin of Mercy) protectively shields her children from all forces that would rob them of their future. Delivered in the midst of the Holocaust, it is a call to all of us to follow our better nature.


Although the subject of the present exhibition is new to the United States, our research has been aided by a number of previous German studies. In particular, we would like to acknowledge our debt to the excellent exhibition, Schmerz und Schuld, mounted by Gudrun and Martin Fritch at the Käthe Kollwitz Museum in Berlin in 1995, as well as to the scholarship of Renate Hinz, Alexandra von dem Knesebeck, Harald Olbrich, Elizabeth Prelinger and Annette Seeler. We would also like to express our warmest thanks to Hannelore Fischer of the Käthe Kollwitz Museum in Cologne and Andrew Robeson of the National Gallery in Washington for their advice and help in assembling some of the source material in our exhibition. Last but not least, we are extremely grateful to the collectors Ruth and Jacob Kainen, Dr. and Mrs. S. William Pelletier and Dr. Richard Simms, as well as to our colleagues C. G. Boerner/Artemis, Theodore Donson and Marvel Griepp, C. and J. Goodfriend, Paul McCarron, Galerie Pels-Leusden, Shepherd Gallery and David Tunick, whose generous assistance made this presentation possible. Checklist entries include references to the relevant catalogue raisonné numbers when applicable. Full sheet sizes are given for drawings, image sizes for prints.