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


Two German Women & The Art of Protest

March 25, 1997 - May 31, 1997


Grundig, Lea

Kollwitz, Käthe



For some years, the Galerie St. Etienne has been engaged in a project which we hope will culminate in a book and a museum exhibition exploring the hitherto unacknowledged role played by women in the development of German Expressionism. The present show, based on a single chapter of this research, combines the work of one of Germany’s best known female artists, Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), with one of the least known, Lea Grundig (1906-1977). Conventional art history posits Expressionism as a kind of Oedipal revolt of sons against fathers; a revolt which took aesthetic form in the first decade of the twentieth century and then assumed a more socio-political guise under the pressures of World War I and its aftermath in the unstable Weimar Republic. In this version of the story, the later heroes are artists such as George Grosz and Otto Dix, who risked persecution and prosecution to expose the corruption of Weimar society. However, the deeper and truer tradition of German artistic protest is that which was forged by Käthe Kollwitz at the turn of the century and which climaxed in the work of Lea Grundig, virtually the only artist who between 1933 and 1938 dared disseminate a substantial body of anti-Nazi art while still living in Hitler’s Germany.


Not only did a significant art of protest arise earlier among German women than it did among men, but its female proponents evidenced a more sustained engagement with the genre. The most impassioned phases in the oeuvres of Grosz and Dix were fading by the mid 1920s, whereas Kollwitz and Grundig maintained a lifelong dedication to socially committed subject matter. And while Kollwitz and Grundig may be the most salient examples of this phenomenon, there were numerous other women (such as Kollwitz’s pupil, the slightly younger Sella Hasse, or later on, Jeanne Mammen and Hannah Höch) who in disparate ways trod similar paths. Indeed, social protest was one of the few areas in which female artists chose to and were allowed to take the lead. The question that must now be asked is, why?


The most obvious answer to this question is that women were inclined to craft an art of protest because they were themselves an oppressed class. Though born into the bourgeoisie, Kollwitz (née Schmidt) and Grundig (née Langer) viewed the proletariat with a compassion that was for the most part alien to male artists of comparable social station. It is no coincidence that both women, once they had left the economic safety of their parental homes, began their careers by drawing empathic portraits of the working class. These portrayals violated significant taboos: when Kollwitz’s first print cycle, The Revolt of the Weavers (checklist nos. 6-10), was nominated for a gold medal at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition in 1898, Kaiser Wilhelm II vetoed the award because he found the artist’s vision too gritty. Curiously, similar sentiments would be voiced over half a century later by the authorities in East Germany, who accused Grundig of catering to a decadent “cult of ugliness.” Neither Grundig, a dedicated communist, nor Kollwitz, who declined any party affiliation, would bend to the requirements of left-wing ideology. Their art rather reflected personal experience.


As a result of their sympathetic identification with the under-class, Kollwitz and Grundig produced work that differs significantly both from that of Weimar Germany’s radical men, who concentrated on attacking the ruling powers, and from the kitschy idealizations of the proletariat that typify socialist realism. In her second print cycle, The Peasants’ War (checklist nos. 13, 17, 18), Kollwitz continued to describe and to some extent advocate armed revolution. Men and women were depicted equally as victims of oppression and as participants in the revolt, though the starring roles were given to female characters. Yet in the penultimate panel of the series, Battlefield, Kollwitz acknowledged that it is invariably men who die in battle and women who mourn. This reality was brought home by the artist’s own travails as a mother and especially by the death of her son Peter in World War I. Hereafter an avowed pacifist, Kollwitz devoted the remainder of her oeuvre to promulgating a world in which the female principles of nurturance and life would triumph over the male principles of war and death. The very fact and essence of being a woman thereby became a protest against the system that men have established.


Kollwitz’s oeuvre is populated by a vast panoply of heroic women: the legendary “Black Anna,” who leads the peasants into battle; the mute widow whose open palms hang at her side in a gesture of stoic suffering (checklist no. 27); the anguished mothers who thrust themselves between their children’s bodies and death (checklist nos. 19, 24, 35). Grundig’s work, created at a slightly different time and under different circumstances, tells a sadder, quieter story. Like Kollwitz, Grundig executed print cycles, though hers were usually loosely related meditations on a common theme, rather than narratives with a specific linked sequence. The three Grundig cycles that are of most immediate interest, Woman’s Life (checklist nos. 49, 53, 56, 58, 62, 68, 69, 74, 75), Under the Swastika (checklist nos. 51, 52, 57, 60, 61, 73, 76) and The Jew is to Blame (checklist nos. 66, 67), were created more or less simultaneously over a five year period following Hitler’s ascension to power in 1933. There are no heroes in these works, unless one counts Grundig herself, who courted death to produce and distribute them. Pulling editions that never exceeded five impressions on her own etching press, Grundig eventually managed to circulate hundreds of drypoints broadcasting the truth about Nazi Germany. Those that survive are from a relatively small group that made it out to Switzerland or Denmark. Grundig, who was Jewish, managed to survive, after two arrests, by escaping to Palestine.


Grundig’s prints were for the most part attempts to bear witness, and while she was not above editorializing, she had no constructive solutions to propose. It was already an incendiary act to show that Nazi Germany was no paradise, but that its citizens wanted for adequate food and clothing (checklist no. 72). In contrast to Hitler’s icon of the happy Hausfrau, Grundig’s women were battered slaves to the domestic grind, so subordinate to this role that their presence need not even be mentioned in the titles The Kitchen and The Laundry Room. And though Grundig was devoted to her husband, the artist Hans Grundig, she depicted love as merely a momentary, fevered refuge from a living hell (checklist no. 59). For women less fortunate than she, suicide beckoned (checklist no. 70). Pregnancy was not a blessing, but a curse. The threat and then reality of Nazi persecution made it impossible for Grundig herself to consider motherhood, and perhaps in part for this reason, she (unlike Kollwitz) was not inclined to present children as the innocent seeds of a brighter future, but rather as the witless dupes of militaristic indoctrination (checklist nos. 63, 65, 71). Grundig concretely countered Nazi propaganda by recording realistic human scenes of Jewish life, and she detailed the effects of Hitler’s policies by documenting mass emigration (checklist no. 64), Gestapo raids and the step-by-step legalization of murder. As early as 1935, her work spoke of impending war.


It is clear that Grundig required great courage to pursue her chosen artistic course, and though Kollwitz, by then an elderly woman, allowed herself to be effectively silenced by Hitler, she had earlier demonstrated equivalent stamina and integrity of vision. Paradoxically, however, for all they risked in terms of content, neither Kollwitz nor Grundig was a stylistic revolutionary. In this, they represented the flip side of their male colleagues, who often stormed the bastions of academic aesthetic tradition, only to fall back on comparatively tame subject matter. One may surmise that it was difficult for German women to reject an academy from which they were officially excluded until 1919; how could they feel constricted by a tradition they had scarcely known? Beyond this, artists such as Kollwitz and Grundig may have sensed that aesthetic experimentation was in essence the prerogative of bourgeois male privilege. This fact, as it turned out, doomed much ostensibly revolutionary art of the early Weimar years: the male aesthetic was simply too rarefied to reach the masses.


In choosing to retain a relatively realistic manner of rendering, Kollwitz and Grundig adopted the style that could most effectively serve their political purposes, while (perhaps unconsciously) skirting issues of male competition that might otherwise have sabotaged their careers. This was, admittedly, a double-edged sword: for while realism allowed the women to prevail professionally, up to a point and within certain narrowly defined parameters, their achievements were consigned, in part owing to their own aesthetic choices, to secondary status. It is not just that male-oriented histories of modernism grant the highest accolades to the stylistic revolutionaries, while disdaining work that is “merely” political. A humanistic bent can easily be branded “feminine” in a pejorative sense: sentimental, domestic, minor. Furthermore, both Kollwitz and Grundig, in devoting themselves chiefly to printmaking, had intentionally elected a minor art form.


Kollwitz and Grundig decided to become printmakers both because printmaking suited their political agendas and because it offered a more viable alternative to painting, the medium of choice for men. Kollwitz could trace her decision to Max Klinger’s famous pronouncement that black and white is best suited to the expression of complex ideas, and to the discovery that she was an indifferent colorist. Still, not all painters have been great colorists, and as her rare colored prints demonstrate, Kollwitz could manipulate limited harmonies with profound subtlety (checklist no. 15). Similarly, Grundig turned to printmaking because she was overwhelmed by the superior coloristic talents of her husband Hans, a painter; while he readily created etchings, she did not feel comfortable treading on “his” turf. Printmaking was, in any case, the preferred medium for reaching the masses: inexpensive, capable of generating work in quantities that could be widely dispersed, and lacking the bourgeois preciousness of the painter’s touch. Especially for Grundig, but to a degree also for Kollwitz, printmaking provided a substitute for the conventional art market, with its elitist system of prizes, dealers, curators and critics. Once more, there was a trade-off between expediency and stature.


The art of protest thus not only accorded with Kollwitz’s and Grundig’s personal experiences, it permitted them access to professional avenues that would otherwise have been foreclosed. They and women of similar inclinations could succeed in this genre because the logically attendant style and medium happened to be of relatively little interest or value to men. Like many of the most successful women artists of this period, Kollwitz and Grundig learned to function in the interstices and lacunae vacated by modernism’s overriding obsessions. It is for this reason, of course, that women’s achievements are often left out of the standard texts on modernism: much of their work does not quite fit. Perhaps, however, it is time to rethink a view of modernism so one-sided that it cannot encompass art as bold and moving and original as that created by Käthe Kollwitz and Lea Grundig.