Kathe Kollwitz

German 1867-1945



“There is not a line of her work which fails to make its comment, which does not cry aloud and indict, which does not expose the petty laws of society.”

                                                                                                                                       —Otto Nagel



Kathe Kollwitz” concern for the plight of humanity began in early childhood, when she became absorbed with the daily routine of the various labourers at her father’s brick factory. Then came marriage to a doctor whose patients were mainly poor, followed by the loss of her only son to the First World War. Unlike so many artists, Kollwitz was never at a loss for subject matter or style—her aim was the mastery of technique best suited for her purpose. To say she achieved this would be an understatement—Kathe Kollwitz is widely considered one of the greatest printmakers of all time.


Encouraged by her liberal-minded father to pursue her artistic inclinations, Kathe Kollwitz studied privately with a copper engraver before enrolling, in 1885, in the School for Women Artists in Berlin. She continued her studies in Munich in 1888-1889, devoting much of her time to the intricacies of etching. Kollwitz was awarded a prize from the German Art Exposition in Dresden in 1894 for her etching series inspired by Gerhard Hauptmann’s play, “The Weavers.”


As a printmaker and a socialist, Kollwitz hoped to improve the lives of her intended audience, the working class, by moving them to action. Her etchings were painstakingly worked and re-worked until she was satisfied. Eventually, she found lithography more satisfactory for her purposes, and by 1920 her interest had turned to the re-emerging woodcut.


Kathe Kollwitz became the first female professor and member of the Prussian Academy of Fine Arts in 1919. In 1928, she became the director for the master studio of graphic arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin. She was forced to resign this position, however, as a result of her political activism against Nazi Fascism. Kollwitz’ views regarding the uniting of socialist and communist leaders against this threatening regime—revealed in a 1936 interview with the Soviet newspaper Isvesai—nearly resulted in her deportation to a concentration camp.


The death of Kollwitz’ son Peter in 1914 had fuelled much of her anti-war sentiments. This did not prevent her losing her grandson, to yet another war, in 1942. Kollwitz’ tribute — a lithograph, entitled “Seed Corn Must Not Be Ground”— was her final protest.