Käthe Kollwitz

Date/place of birth

8. Juli 1867, Königsberg

Day/place of death

22. April 1945, Moritzburg

Käthe Kollwitz - Kindergruppe
Käthe Kollwitz - Kindergruppe

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Käthe Kollwitz biography

Käthe Kollwitz understood art and society as an inseparable unity. The German graphic artist and sculptor was unable to turn away from the grave social grievances of her time, and the depiction of need and death would become her life’s theme.

Käthe Kollwitz – Encouragement from her father; engagement to Karl Kollwitz

Käthe Kollwitz was born Käthe Schmidt on 8 July 1867 in Königsberg in Prussia. Her father Karl Schmidt, a lawyer by trade, was unable to find employment in that field due to his liberal views and thus worked as a master bricklayer. He recognised his daughter’s artistic talent early on and endeavoured to encourage her, enabling basic tuition with the copperplate engraver Rudolf Mauer and the painter Gustav Naujok and her attendance at the Ladies’ Academy of the Association of Berlin Women Artists, where her teacher was the Swiss painter Karl Stauffer-Bern. The work of Max Klinger, in particular his series Eine Liebe and Ein Leben, had a great influence on Käthe Kollwitz’ artistic development. She received further tuition in her hometown of Königsberg from the renowned history painter Emil Neide, and in 1888 became engaged to the young doctor Karl Kollwitz, a schoolfriend of her older brother Conrad Schmidt, who later made a name for himself as a philosopher and economist.

Printmaking as a means of making human suffering a subject

Before she got married, Käthe Kollwitz went to Munich to further her studies with Ludwig Herterich and used this opportunity to gather her first experiences with painting from the nude model. At this time, Max Liebermann and Fritz von Uhde were making the great breakthrough in naturalistic plein air painting, which tackled the living conditions of the lower classes. Liebermann in particular became Kollwitz’ chosen role model who, under his influence, set about artistically processing the everyday life of the working class soon after her studies finished. In these early works, naturalistic depiction was still in the forefront, rather than the clear social criticism that later permeated the artist’s oeuvre. In line with Max Klinger’s art historical writing Malerei und Zeichnung (Painting and Drawing), Käthe Kollwitz turned to graphic art and discovered her artistic light in the shadows of human existence. Kollwitz’ first lithograph, however, was of a joyful motif – her first son Hans Kollwitz, born in 1892. 

Weavers’ Revolt and Peasants War brought the breakthrough

Käthe Kollwitz first attracted attention at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition in 1898 when she presented her work cycle A Weavers’ Revolt, inspired by the world premiere of Gerhart Hauptmann’s drama The Weavers. Max Liebermann, no less, nominated Kollwitz for a small gold medallion, but this request failed due to the resistance of Emperor Wilhelm II, for whom modern art was only “gutter art” that ran counter to the historicism and salon painting he valued. However, the director of the Dresden Kupferstich-Kabinett, Max Lehrs - who would become one of Käthe Kollwitz’ important patrons - disagreed, and together with Liebermann arranged that the artist was given a small gold plaque at the German Art Exhibition in Dresden. Kollwitz subsequently became a member of the Berlin Secession, attended the Académie Julian in Paris, and had the chance to stay in Florence for a year following the award of the Villa Romana Prize. Her etching series on the Peasants’ War, which she completed only in 1908, was another much-acclaimed success. 

Engaged pacifist and socialist against many odds

Following the fall of her younger son Peter Kollwitz in the First Battle of Flanders in the First World War, Käthe Kollwitz turned decisively to pacifism and socialism. With her work showing ever stronger social criticism, she aroused the outrage of the upper classes: in 1906, for example, the Empress refused to visit the German Homework Exhibition whilst a picture by Kollwitz depicting an exhausted female worker was on public display. Kollwitz also responded to the violent death of the Marxist Karl Liebknecht with a woodcut. Although she had never belonged to a particular party, the artist thought of herself as a socialist; her political engagement, which expressed itself - amongst other ways - in the signing of the Urgent Appeal of the International Socialist Combat League, ultimately saw her lose her position as head of the graphics class at the Prussian Academy of Arts. Käthe Kollwitz received a ban on exhibiting during the Nazi dictatorship, and a large part of her work was destroyed during the bombing of Berlin.

Käthe Kollwitz died on 22 April 1945 in Moritzburg near Dresden. Her son Hans Kollwitz became a well-known doctor and psychotherapist whilst her other son Peter worked as a fine artist until his premature death in the war. With his monument, his mother created her sculptural key work.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Käthe Kollwitz Prices

Käthe KollwitzKindergruppe€65.000
Käthe KollwitzDie Klage€62.500
Käthe KollwitzKindergruppe€55.800
Käthe KollwitzLotte. Rückseitig: Mutter, die ihr Kind nährt€34.510
Käthe KollwitzKindergruppe€19.840
Käthe KollwitzDie Klage€19.200

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