Pair of Lovers, 1913-1915

Bronze, 710 (h) 472 (w) 483.5 (d) mm, Seeler 19.II.B.9.

Käthe Kollwitz, Pair of Lovers, 1913-1915, bronze, Seeler 13.II.B.9., Cologne Kollwitz Collection © Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln

Käthe Kollwitz probably developed this sculpture in three versions from summer 1912 until early 1915. A historical photo documents one of the previous versions that she created in winter 1912/1913 as a free enlargement of a first preliminary version dating from summer 1912. In late 1915 she completed the work and exhibited the plaster cast of the final version under the title »Pair of Lovers« at the Berlin Free Secession in spring 1916. This was the first public display of one of the sculptural works she had created so far.

Kollwitz herself regarded the premiere as a disaster although the critics were lenient rather than harsh. The artist expressed her disappointment programmatically in her diary in 1916:

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It is appropriate that she should fail. Why? She isn’t popular. The average observer doesn’t understand her. Art for the average observer needn’t be trivial. He will like the art despite it being trivial. To be sure, but will he appreciate true art that is simple? I am quite convinced that there needs to be an understanding between the artist and the people. […]«
Käthe Kollwitz, Diaries, 21 February 1916

The »Pair of Lovers« consists of several layers of meaning that overlap. The constellation of the two figures, with one sitting on the other’s lap, is used in her graphic works for a play with changing roles for the players. There are sheets showing a mother with her dead child on her lap, another is a depiction of the personification of Death holding a girl, and still other works show the traditional constellation of two lovers turning towards each other. Eros, god of love, and Thanatos, god of death, both feature in these works.

The larger figure in the sculptural group, whose face is hidden, reaches out to hold the head of the smaller figure, who seems to be asleep, as if he wanted to shape and mould it. This evokes the workings of Eros, the creator of new life. Yet it may also be that the apparently lifeless figure is tenderly embraced by Death.

The ambiguity of this work contributed to the fact that it was given the title »Woman with a dead Child« in the 1950s when its genesis was not yet fully known, or, rather, had been forgotten.

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