Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945)

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945)

I wrote a post on Käthe Kollwitz for the foundations drawing course as well, while I was drawing the self- portrait. But this time rather than reading too much about her biography, I am watching her art work online and a documentary by Herbert Apelt, letting the drawings sink in .

The drawings are so strong and beautiful, crying with raw feelings. I am having a lump in my chest seeing Käthe Kollwitz artwork, so beautifully expressing sadness, fear, love, despair.

Berlin at the turn of the century was prosperous and jolly, but there was also another side- large grey blocks with people living in severe poverty and misery. Dr. Karl Kollwitz, Käthe’s husband was a medical doctor with a big heart , seeing and treating the poor. Often their staircase was flooded with people in need of his assistance. Käthe could not turn away from this suffering, but wanted to draw it all. She worked mostly with charcoal, dark simplicity, expressing the essence, rarely using color.

Käthe said ” It is life itself and all it contains that I want to show”.  Mother and child is a theme she draws over and over again. The feelings she conveys in these drawings are so strong .

She saw the first performance of the play “Die Weber” by Gerhard Hauptmann and the impression was enormous. The series of drawings she created based on this play established her as an artist and also as a fighter for social revolutionism, although she never belonged to a party.

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Käthe: “I have to give expression to the suffering of man. I agree that my art has a purpose”. Her art was found shocking by the middle classes of her time.

1914 the first world war started- everything in Käthe revolted against it. She drew mothers having to send their children to war, mothers who waited, mothers who saw their children starve, mothers who got news about their husbands deaths.

“I could do hundreds of such drawings, but now I feel that I can do it no more, I am too worn away with grief and tears.

Kaethe s own son was dead and she spent 17 years , interrupted by depression, working on a sculpture for the cemetery where he was buried. In 1932 the two figures were standing, one woman, one man, it is all finished.

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In 1933, when the National Socialism came to power, Käthe Kollwitz work was banned from exhibition and she was forced to retire from the Academy. She wrote in her diary about a sense of isolation, “I have really come to the end of my work”. “These are melancholic times, but even now I am flooded by gratitude.”

From this time there is a series of self- portraits, showing this woman who could not turn away from expressing the suffering of her fellow human beings.

 

I am so touched by the strength of feelings these drawings express, the love and understanding for the people suffering that shines through. I love the simplicity of the charcoal, the play of light and shadow as the main element. I admire how parts are left unfinished and expressive,( like the scribbled arm in the drawing above) and others worked to detail. I admire how she masters the human face and figure and how the body position, and every mark is supporting the expression of the feelings.

 

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