Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) is today regarded as the most important German female artist of the first half of the 20th century. Even during her lifetime, her work exerted its charismatic fascination throughout the world. A large number of her poignant drawings, prints and sculptures were created as a result of direct engagement with her personal experiences – moments of happiness as well as blows of fate.
On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the artist’s death, the Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln focuses on the personal aspects of her work. The exhibition with different focal points will highlight how Kollwitz elaborated these personal aspects with emotional clout to give them universal validity.
Loving and having to let go what we love most, yet wanting to keep it – it’s always the same story.«
... Kollwitz wrote pensively in a letter of January 1915 to her son Hans. The artistic reflection of private, even intimate moments runs like a thread through her work. Many of her most intimate motifs draw on events in the private environment of her family.
The emotional closeness that Kollwitz permits when the observer approaches works in which she artistically expressed her most intimate feelings is striking. Being aware of this closeness allows the viewer to detect private elements even in the artist’s most famous works – in individual sheets from her print cycles, in her virtuoso drawings and in her sculptural work. Cathrin Krahmer wrote of the artist and her work that nothing characterises Käthe Kollwitz and her work better than her urge to share someone else’s pain, fight for them, be there for them when needed - this emotional aspect of solidarity and communality. At the same time, the artist always created new forms of artistic expression and novel motifs to reflect her feelings which testify the uniqueness of her work.
»… letting go…«
In the artist’s life, loving was oft closely associated with farewell and death. The life-threatening diphtheria infection of her eldest son Hans in 1908 led to a series of her most impressive works. These feature a woman wrestling with a personification of death for the life of her child. The artist approached the poignant theme in virtuoso chalk, charcoal and pencil drawings of highest intensity and extreme profundity. In the creative process, Kollwitz again and again discarded possible artistic solutions, wrestling for a form of expression which is universally valid and easily understood. A few years later, she lost her youngest son Peter who fell in the war. This calamity had a profound impact on her role as a mother and an artist and strongly influenced her work.
The Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln, founded on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the artist’s death, celebrates its 35th anniversary in 2020 with this exhibition. The works on display are from the museum’s own extensive collection.