I have experienced the fact that alongside physical anguish and deprivation, human grief is subject to the laws of life. Separation and death accompany each person’s life. Goethe talked about ›life tolling its iron bell‹.«
Käthe Kollwitz, from: Beate Bonus-Jeep, 60 Years of Friendship with Käthe Kollwitz
In her husband’s surgery in the Berlin working-class district of Prenzlauer Berg, Käthe Kollwitz was confronted with the existential worries of working-class families on an almost daily basis. High infant mortality and the generally precarious situation of the children of the Berlin proletariat is addressed in works such as her drawings for the satirical weekly journal Simplicissimus. The worries and hardship of proletarian women, which she depicts in an often dramatic fashion, can be regarded as the artist’s intensive awareness of life’s tragic vicissitudes.
The drawings created after 1908 are regarded as a personal exploration of the theme of Farewell and Death as a result of events in her immediate family circle. These works stand out in their intense poignancy. The infection of her eldest son Hans with diphtheria in 1908 led to a number of works that reflect her own strong fears of loss. They anticipate the grief that the artist experienced later, after the death of her youngest son Peter who fell as a volunteer in 1914. The suicide of her cousin Else Rautenberg in 1920 is also intensively explored in her work, e.g. in the woodcut »Woman Resting in Death’s Lap«.
In 1923 Käthe Kollwitz published a portfolio entitled »Farewell and Death« with reproductions of eight drawings. In this context the artist mentioned for the first time that she intended to produce another series of prints on this theme – the project was finished in 1937 with the publication of the series »Death«.
The last few years of her life are characterised by the loss of people close to her – friends, artist colleagues and family members, above all the death of her husband Karl – which is echoed in her work.
Käthe Kollwitz, Farewell, 1910, charcoal, blotted, on Ingres paper, NT 616
Käthe Kollwitz, Death, Woman and Child, 1910, line etching, drypoint, sandpaper and vernis mou with imprint of laid paper and Ziegler's transfer paper, Kn 108 XIII
Käthe Kollwitz, Woman in the Lap of Death, 1920/1921, woodcut, Kn 165
Käthe Kollwitz, Death and young Man, gliding upwards, c. 1922/1923, black crayon, blotted, on drawing paper, NT 963
Käthe Kollwitz, Departure and Death, 1923, crayon lithograph (transfer), Kn 200
Käthe Kollwitz, Lamentation, 1938-1941, bronze, Seeler 38 I.B.3.
Käthe Kollwitz, Farewell, 1940/1941, bronze, Seeler 39 I.B.1.
Käthe Kollwitz, Self-portrait with Karl Kollwitz, 1938-1940, crayon, blotted, on yellowish Ingres paper, NT 1276