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


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

September 15, 1992 - November 7, 1992




The 125th anniversary of Käthe Kollwitz’s birth provides an ideal opportunity for a reappraisal of an artist who, though beloved by millions around the world, is too often typecast by the sociopolitical content of her work. The present exhibition comes toward the end of a year that has seen commemorative presentations throughout the artist’s native Germany and, in this country, a groundbreaking retrospective at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Many of these shows, responding independently to a similar need, have attempted to refocus attention on the artistic procedures and achievements of Käthe Kollwitz and thereby to present this time-honored artist in a new light. For, as Elizabeth Prelinger writes in the National Gallery catalogue, Kollwitz’s accomplishments are far more complex than is generally recognized.


Both the art and the persona of Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) are plagued by surprising contradictions. The seeming resolve of her unflagging and far-reaching oeuvre was in fact constantly undermined by the artist’s lingering doubts about both her competency and the overriding nature of her mission. Virtuosity was a double-edged sword, for while technical mastery was required for the effective delivery of her message, Kollwitz feared that if she became seduced by process, her work would acquire a counterproductive preciousness. Though committed early on to an attempt at improving the lot of the downtrodden, Kollwitz was at best a half-hearted revolutionary, who eschewed association with any political party and came to oppose violence in any name. If nonetheless her humanitarian sympathies placed her in the political vanguard, her style remained conservative, dependent on its resolute realism to reach a mass audience.


When one examines closely Kollwitz’s considerable production--over 1,600 prints, drawings and sculptures--the ambiguities and conflicts of her fifty-year career gradually emerge. The apparent effortlessness of many of the artist’s signature images is belied by the frequently arduous methods required to create them. To begin with, the decision to devote herself chiefly to printmaking was neither easy nor obvious. Pressed by convention as well as the potent expectations of her own father to become a painter, Kollwitz eventually found her true medium through the encouragement of her teacher, Karl Stauffer-Bern, and the example of the brilliant printmaker Max Klinger. Both in his own work and in his influential treatise Painting and Drawing, Klinger put forth the notion that black and white art (and print cycles in particular) was more effective and appropriate than painting for the formulation of social criticism.


Around 1888-89, Kollwitz determined to test Klinger’s theories by illustrating Germinal, Emil Zola’s novel about struggling coal miners in northern France. Focusing initially on a scene involving a barroom brawl, she researched the setting in a sailors’ tavern, producing over the next few years an elaborate sequence of preliminary drawings and etchings, as well as one final, fully realized print. Drawing--here and throughout her life-- was integral to the creative act, allowing her not only to assemble her ultimate compositions from detailed studies, but also to work out the interrelationships of light and shadow that are central to printmaking; often her studies and worked-over proofs highlight bright areas to be burnished in the plate, or indicate darker lines which must be etched more deeply. Despite her extensive preparatory work, however, Kollwitz did not pursue the Zola project, for in 1893 she happened to attend a première performance of Gerhart Hauptmann’s play The Weavers, which immediately displaced Germinal in her mind.


Kollwitz was to devote over four years to her first print cycle, Revolt of the Weavers. The amount of time required for the production of these six images attests to the agonizing process of trial and error, the gnawing doubts and self-criticism, that were intrinsic to her approach. She was especially frustrated with what she perceived to be her inadequate command of the etching medium and felt compelled to resort to lithography to produce the shadowy, densely nuanced interiors of the first three scenes. Having rejected several etched versions of these subjects, the artist returned to that medium for the final three plates, so that the completed series has the unusual distinction of combining two different printmaking media. Its problematic genesis and provocative theme of oppression and rebellion notwithstanding, Revolt of the Weavers was, on the whole, well received, immediately establishing Kollwitz among the foremost printmakers of her day.


If Kollwitz felt to some extent defeated by the complexities of etching in Revolt of the Weavers, she emerged determined to master the medium once and for all. There followed a period of intense creativity, fueled by an experimental wizardry that even today confounds the experts. Kollwitz augmented aquatint--the conventional method of producing tone in etching--with a broad repertoire of soft-ground textures (cloth of different weaves as well as coarse-grained paper) and possibly even photomechanical dots. The masterful build-up of these various layers and tonal densities is dramatically revealed in the early states of her etchings from this time. These efforts climaxed in the seven plates of the Peasants’ War (1902-08) cycle, some of which went through at least nine preliminary stages. Yet Kollwitz’s continuing insecurity is betrayed by the body of rejected prints that preceded the Peasants’ War--including lithographic versions of two of the subjects. This time, however, her will and her skill prevailed, and she was able to execute the complete final series as etchings.


Like the Weavers, the abortive Germinal, and much of Kollwitz’s early work, the Peasants’ War had a literary/historical source and a loose narrative premise. Around 1903, however, Kollwitz began to abandon these elaborate scenarios for singular, iconic figures and more contemporary subject matter. This trend, along with a gradual technical simplification, was accelerated by the drastic social changes that followed World War I. The death of Kollwitz’s son Peter in the war had somewhat tempered her revolutionary fervor, yet the demoralizing conditions of the Weimar Republic reinforced her commitment to social advocacy. In order to refine and strengthen her message, she determined to subdue and minimize her technique. She perceived that the new content of the postwar period demanded a new form.


So it was that, in 1919 at the age of 52, Kollwitz began experimenting with an entirely new medium: woodcut. The occasion was the artist’s memorial to the slain Communist leader Karl Liebknecht, an image that, in stressing the mourners’ sorrow over the martyr’s heroism, was guaranteed to displease those on either political extreme. Once again, Kollwitz produced a flurry of cast-off impressions, executing the subject in etching and lithography before finally fixing on woodcut. She was to use woodcut very effectively for her next two series, War and Proletariat, though as usual she complained of inadequacy, albeit this time less her own than that of the medium itself. She was caught in an aesthetic quandary: woodcut was somehow too reductive, while lithography, her old fallback, seemed too easy.


Her reservations about lithography notwithstanding, Kollwitz in the last twenty years of her life reverted almost exclusively to that medium. Whereas formerly she had used lithography to mimic the dense textures that confounded her in etching, her mature work exploited the spontaneity and directness that are lithography’s unique assets. She realized, nonetheless, that lithography’s very simplicity of execution could be a trap, fostering sentimentality by diminishing aesthetic struggle and distance. The complex reworking of states that characterized Kollwitz’s etchings and woodcuts was alien to lithography, but the artist continued to wrestle with her subjects, often producing multiple versions of similar images, as well as a prodigious flow of preparatory drawings. In this manner, she kept her themes fresh and alive, free from the taint of cheap propaganda and the confining circumstances of a particular time or place. It is for this reason that her artistic legacy has survived through the century: not only because of its universal humanitarian passion, but because of its brilliancy and originality of execution.