‘Stealing’ from Käthe Kollwitz

When it comes to stealing, there are several artists I love to steal from. One of my absolute favorite artists is Käthe Kollwitz. Her work is absolutely beautiful and powerful and if I ever have enough money to buy original artwork, one of her pieces will be my very first purchase. I like to think that Käthe (notice, I am pretending we are on a first name basis) and I are basically the same person, born centuries apart. If she were alive today, and spoke English, we would probably be the best of friends :) Or, at the very least, I would follow her around, begging her to be friends with me.

Born in Germany in 1867, Käthe Kollwitz created work that reflected the effects of poverty, hunger and war.  She was briliant at capturing emotion and relationships.  Her images of mothers and children are my favorites.  Here are some quotes and images and I find especially powerful:

I have received a commission to make a poster against war. That is a task that makes me happy. Some may say a thousand times that this is not pure art…. but as long as I can work, I want to be effective with my art.

  • Letters of Friendship and Acquaintance [Briefe der Freundschaft und Begegnungen] (1966), edited by Hans Kollwitz, p. 95; cited in Käthe Kollwitz: Woman and Artist (1976) by Martha Kearns, p. 172

I felt that I have no right to withdraw from the responsibility of being an advocate. It is my duty to voice the sufferings of people, the sufferings that never end and are as big as mountains.

  • Diary entry (1 April 1920)

The artist is usually a child of his times, especially if his formative years fell in the period of early socialism. My formative years coincided with that period, and I was totally caught up in the socialist movement. At that time, the idea of a conscious commitment to serve the proletariat was the farthest thing from my mind. But what use to me were principles of beauty like those of the Greeks, for example, principles that I could not feel as my own and identify with? The simple fact of the matter was that I found the proletariat beautiful.

  • Reply to questionnaire sent to prominent artists, (1942/1943), quoted in Käthe Kollwitz (1971) by Otto Nagel, translated by Stella Humphries

When I visited Berlin back in 2010, I also fell in love with this sculpture:

This not so great panorama that I took does not even begin to capture how beautiful this was. This sculpture is housed in  Neue Wache in Berlin, a building that was originally built as a guardhouse but used as a war memorial since 1931.  Since 1993, it has been housing an enlarged version of Kollwitz’s Mother with her Dead Son.  The piece is placed right under the buildings oculus and therefore not only lit up dramatically throughout the day, but also covered in rain and snow throughout the year.  Besides the statue, the room is empty and barren.  These pictures do not capture how dark and cold this room was.  Entering this room was truly an emotional experience and one that mirrored the grief of a mother losing her child that Kollwitz captured so beautifully.

Käthe Kollwitz

Berlin is also home to the Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum, which my cousin and I had to beg to enter because we didn’t get to it until the very last day of our trip, and much too close to closing time.  But the annoyed German ladies behind the desk did allow us to go in for at least a little bit and I’m so glad they did :)

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One Response to ‘Stealing’ from Käthe Kollwitz

  1. Pingback: Annual Review Part II: 2014 Goals | Angelika Piwowarczyk | Chicago Artist

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