Grief, poverty, hunger and war came to life in her art

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Misery, 1897. Musée d'art moderne et contemporain of Strasbourg

April 22, On This Day

Death of a socialist artist

Käthe Kollwitz |

A committed pacifist and communist, this female German artist depicted the effects of poverty, hunger and war on the working class in 275 prints over her career, in etching, woodcut and lithography. Virtually the only portraits she made (at least 50) were images of herself, which she called “psychological milestones”.

A painter and sculptor as well, Käthe Kollwitz was born in July 1867, and breathed her last 76 years ago from today, on April 22, 1945. Her most famous art cycles include The Weavers and The Peasant War, and despite the realism of her early works, her art is now more closely associated with Expressionism.

The interior of Neue Wache in Berlin, with Käthe Kollwitz’s sculpture Mother with her Dead Son – centerpiece of what is today a memorial to “victims of war and dictatorship”.

It is believed Kollwitz suffered anxiety during her childhood due to the death of her siblings, including the early death of her younger brother, Benjamin; she also lost her younger son, Peter, on the battlefield in World War I in October 1914. This loss began a stage of prolonged depression in her life.

Her grief is depicted in several of her art works, which carry somber tones and grave themes. Recent research also suggests that Kollwitz may have suffered from a childhood neurological disorder dysmetropsia (sometimes called Alice in Wonderland syndrome, due to its sensory hallucinations and migranes.

Woman with Dead Child, 1903 etching
Die Mütter [The Mothers], 1922, woodcut, Library of Congress
Misery, 1897. Musée d’art moderne et contemporain of Strasbourg
Praying woman, 1892. Musée d’art moderne et contemporain of Strasbourg
Working Woman (with Earring), 1910. Brooklyn Museum

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