1) Notes on Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945)
The Cover: Memorial to Karl Liebnicht
Early Family Life
Artistic Training and Early Influences
Married Life And The Mirror of Working Class Miseries
The Print Cycles of "The Weavers" and the "Peasant Wars"
Kollwitz’s Relationship To Communism
Relationship of Her Work to Bourgeois Artistic Movements – "Der Blaue Reiter", "Die Brucke", German Expressionism
Hitler And the Final Years
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING/VIEWING
[NOTE: For additional web sources on Kollwitz, including illustrations: Through the text, are also placed links to view some of her work. These other Web-sites are not connected to Alliance).
The Cover: Memorial to Karl Liebnicht.
"Die Lebenden den Toten. Errinerung an den 15 Januar 1919" or,
"The Living to the Dead. In Memory of January 15 1919".
After the end of the First world War, German militarism was crumbling. The influence of the Russian revolution had fired the German workers. A mutiny broke out in Kiel in the navy, and this unleashed a storm over Germany of strikes, mutinies and rebellions. Soldiers and Workers Councils were proclaimed. Käthe Kollwitz attended meetings of the Workers and Artists Councils enthusiastically. But the Socialist Party (SPD) social-revisionists were storing up counter-revolution. The SPD Government rejected the demands put by the First Congress of the Workers and Soldiers Councils of 1918, to forward socialization of the means of production and of a purge of the army. Instead it proclaimed elections in a month, on January 9th 1919.
So Karl Liebnicht and Rosa Luxemburg formed the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Karl had been the son of Wilhelm Liebnicht – the old editor of "Vorwarts" [Forwards], the socialist paper until his death in 1900. Under the leadership of Karl and Rosa, the Spartacus League had previously attacked, from outside, and within the Parliament (Karl Liebnicht was an elected Deputy for the Socialists) the war credits of the SPD to the German imperialists. Now, in a revolutionary environment with the example of Russia before the population, Liebnicht and Luxemburg threatened the post-war capitalist order even more directly. They were therefore murdered by the so called Freikorps ("Free Corps"), under the direction of the German social revisionist leaders of the SPD.
After the murder, Käthe Kollwitz went to the home of Karl Liebnicht – who had been a personal friend. Karl’s family asked Kollwitz – by then a famous proponent in prints (etchings and lithographs) and drawings of the working class – to sketch his death mask and body. She took on this task, creating a vivid memorial of grieving workers by Liebenicht’s bier. It was her first major wood-cut. It’s sharp lines, formed a testament to both the strength of the fallen, and the strength of those left behind to fight for the same cause in which Karl Liebnicht had died. She showed a strength suffused with a human dignity, that took the time needed, to grieve for their own.
Stylistically, her wood-cut showed traditional influences of German art going back to medieval ages with Albrecht Durer, and it showed the context in which she viewed Karl Liebnicht - as a part of the German tradition:
"The title & the dedication became the bottom frame - also the side – of Liebenicht’s coffin in the manner in which a medieval artisan .. would include a notation of the event… As an artist she also inherited the tradition of the old Germanic woodblock which Albrecht Durer had worked, and which in her immediate artistic environment had influenced such contemporaries as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Pechstein and other member of Die Brucke."
Martha Kearns: "Käthe Kollwitz: Woman & Artist"; 1976; New York; pp. 161-162.
But in her hands, the tradition took a different direction than the one taken by the members of "Die Brucke" or the Bridge. Her direction was both to, and from the workers.Early Family Life:
Käthe herself was later to recall:
"In recent years I feel the influence of two generations in me: my father in close proximity, because he served to introduce me to socialism, socialism understood as the much desired Brotherhood of Man. Behind him stood Rupp, a being not linked to man, but to God the religious man."The family home encouraged progressive literature, identifying with the people. Her brother, Konrad, became an active member of the Communist Party Germany (KPD). She would later marry his socialist friend – Karl Kollowitz. Karl was a medical student. Käthe was fond of Goethe, Tolstoy, Freiligrath and Heine, whom she recited from memory for all her life. Another family favorite was Freiligrath’s German translation of Thomas Hood‘s poem: The "Song of the Shirt":
"Tagebuchblatter und Briefe [Diary & Letters]"; Ed Hans Kollwitz; Berlin; Gebruder Mann Verlag; 1948.p.163-164.
"With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A Woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread –
Stitch! Stitch! Stitch!
In poverty hunger and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,
She sang the "Song of the Shirt"!
Work-work-work-Artistic Training and Early Influences
Till the brain begins to swim,
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam and gusset, and band,
And band and gusset and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep
And sew them on in dream".
"Symbolism: A loosely organised movement in literature and the visual arts flourishing c 1885-1910, characterised by a rejection of direct, literal representation in favour of evocation and suggestion. It was part of a broad anti-materialist anti-rationalist tend in arts and ideas towards the end of the 19 th century, and marked a reaction against the naturalistic aims of the Impressionists. Symbolist painters tried to give visual expression to emotional experiences, or as the poet Jean Moreas put it into a Symbolist Manifesto published in le Figaro on 18 September 1886: ‘To clothe the idea in sensuous form’. Just as Symbolist poets thought that there was close correspondence between the sound and rhythm of words, so Symbolist painters thought that colour and line in themselves could express ideas….. Religious feeling of an intense mystical kind was a feature of the movement but so was an interest in the erotic and the perverse-death, disease and sin were favorite subjects. Stylistically, Symbolist artists varied greatly, form a love exotic detail to an almost primitive simplicity … A general tendency was towards flattened forms and broad areas of colour – in tune with Post-Impressionism in general. By freeing painting from what Paul Gaughin called ‘the shackles of probability’ the movement helped to create the aesthetic premise of 20 th century art. "Of course freeing from "the shackles of probability", means freeing from the real and natural world. As such it is moving towards abstractionism. As such it is moving towards anti-materialist art, anti-realist art.
"The Oxford Dictionary of Art"; Editors Ian Chilvers & Harold Osborne; Oxford; 1997; p. 546.
"Kollwitz was, I believe, fundamentally, a dramatic artist who dealt in human emotions and who evoked them with great subtlety through gesture and facial expression. She had the power of rendering feelings corporeal. Her conception often overflowed the bounds of a single print into a cycle of related prints unfolding a dramatic sequence."It is not surprising that with all her formative influences, there was one other non-artistic reason why Kollwitz focused her art on the etching, lithograph and wood-cuts: they were possible to distribute in print runs of at least hundreds, to the people. A single print cost the equivalent of 2-6 dollars in today’s currency. Obviously, a logical extension of this, was into poster art. Kollwitz’s posters were famous and very important in mobilising popular opinion.
Introduction to "Prints & Drawings of Käthe Kollwitz"; Dover Publications; New York; 1969; p.ix,
Married Life And The Mirror of Working Class Miseries
When Karl obtained a job in Berlin in a working-class district, as a "Krnakenkasse Arzt" physician (A doctor working for the Health insurance fund established by Bismarck, who tried to under-cut the appeal of the Social Democratic party) she went to Berlin as his wife. Karl’s patients were the working poor of Berlin – and especially the wives and children of that class. It is not surprising that much of Kollwitz’s most moving work is of children and mothers. As she wrote in her journal:
"Much later on when I became acquainted with the difficulties and tragedies underlying proletarian life, when I met the women who came to my husband for help and so, incidentally came to me, I was gripped by the full force of the proletarian’s fate. Unsolved problems such as prostitution and unemployment grieved and tormented me, and contributed to my feeling that I must keep on with my studies of the lower classes. And portraying them again and again, opened a safety valve for me; it made life bearable";And in the detail with which she viewed the life of the workers, she naturally saw the terrible fate of many of them. In some of the most poignant of her work, Death is a constant figure of menace, gloom, and most sadly – in extremes – Death is depicted as a potential friend and liberator from misery:
Martha Kearns, " Käthe Kollwitz: Woman & Artist"; Cited p.107; from Kollwitz Diary & Letters; p, 43.
"The more I see of it, the more I realize that this is the typical misfortune of workers’ families. As soon as the man drinks or is sick & unemployed, it is always the same story. Either he hangs on his family like a dead weight and lets them feed him – cursed by the other members of the family (like the Schwarzenaus or Franks), or he goes mad (likewise Frank) or he takes his own life. For the woman the misery is always the same. She keeps the children whom she must feed, scolds and complains about the husband. She sees only what has become of him, and not how he became that way."In all this, she saw beauty in the workers. Her aesthetic was different from that of the bourgeoisie:
Kollwitz; "Diary & Letters" p. 2. Cited Kearns Ibid; p. 116.
"My real motive for choosing my subjects almost exclusively from the life of the workers was that only such subjects gave me in a simple & unqualified way what I felt to be beautiful. For me the Koenigsberg longshoremen had beauty… the broad freedom of movement in the gestures of the common people had beauty. Middle class people had no appeal for me at all. Bourgeois life as a whole seemed to me pedantic. The proletariat on the other hand, had a grandness of manner, a breadth to their lives… I have never been able to see beauty in the upper class educated person; he’s superficial; he’s not natural or true; he’s not honest, and he’s not human being in every sense of the word."It was this that led her to a repetitive theme of Death. And death is viewed as a terroriser and reaper, but at times a relief. The relief of the old poverty stricken mother who hears the call of death as a friend. Or the desperate relief of the old man who prepares his own noose in the "Last Resort". This was a recognition of the grim reality of everyday life – and death – of the workers. (Two of her prints-drawings depicting death are at this web-site http://www.uwrf.edu/history/prints/women/kollwitz.html )
From Kollwitz; "Diary & Letters"; p. 43; & interview with Agnes Smedley; "Germany’s Artist of the Masses"; Industrial Pioneers September 1925 p. 9; Cited Kearns; Ibid; p.81.
"Nothing is real but the frightfulness of this state, which we almost grow used to. In such times, it seems so stupid that the boys must go to war. The whole thing is so ghastly and insane.. How can they possibly take part in such madness?.. All is leveled by death; down with the Youth! Then one is ready to despair";The inevitable happened, and Peter died in October 1914. Kollwitz’s personal tragedy was transmuted into art under the general slogan drawn from Goethe –
Kollwitz; "Diary & Letters" p. 63; Cited Kearns Ibid; p. 134
"Saatfruchte sollen nicht vermahlen werden"The "seed", were the children of course. Perhaps her greatest sculptures are the figures at the cemetery at Roggevelde in Belgium, where her son Peter lay with so many other dead of the inter-imperialist war of 1914-18. (See the sculptures at this site: NOTE: It takes a while to download this site: http://www.liv-coll.ac.uk/europetrip/brussels/kollwitz.htm )
["Seed for the planting must not be ground"].
The commemoration figures only took final shape, after eighteen years of hard artistic work and searching, for the best way to express both her own feelings – and those of parents the world over. The two figures are of herself and her husband Karl. She wrote of her last visit to her son’s grave with her husband:
"We went from the figures to Peter's grave, and everything was alive and wholly felt. I stood before: the woman, looked at her - my own face - and I wept and stroked her cheeks. Karl stood close behind me - I did not even realize it. I heard him whhisper, "Yes, yes. How close we were to one another then!"Perhaps her currently most famous sculptural work, is the moving sculpture that now stands in Berlin, as a memorial to the dead of all wars, with the name "La Pieta". It depicts a modern woman holding her dead son in her lap and arms. It is perhaps the only one of her works to bear major resemblance to other schools of art than the German realists, as it does remind the viewer of the "Pieta" of Michaelangelo. His was the only art with she fully resonated when she went to Italy to study.
Kollwitz, "Diary & Letters"; Ibid; pp. 121-122; Cited by Kearns; Ibid; p.201;
The Print Cycles of "The Weavers" and the "Peasant Wars"After her marriage, she continued to teach herself, and to refine her techniques of drawing and etching, with experiments in her cramped home-studio next to Karl’s practice. But in 1893, she went to see a play that was to have an immense influence on her art and works. The socialist playwright, Gerhart Hauptmann, showed the misery of handicraft workers, in "The Weavers", depicting the 1840 plight and revolt of the Silesian weavers. Karl Marx commented of the significance of this revolt, using the Song of the Weavers as an example of the new proletarian consciousness:
"Not one of the French and English workers’ uprisings had such a theoretical and conscious character as the uprising of the Silesian weavers. First of all recall the Song of the Weavers, that bold call to struggle, in which there is not even a mention of hearth and home, factory or district, but in which th proletariat at once, in a striking, sharp, unrestrained and powerful manner proclaims its opposition to the society of private property. The Silesian uprising begins precisely with what the French and British workers uprisings end, with conciousness of the nature of the proletariat."Käthe Kollowitz called the play a "milestone" in her work. She produced six prints (three lithographs and 3 etchings) known as the "Weavers Uprising", over the four years of 1893-1897. She repeatedly tackled the themes, recalling that "My work on this series was slow and painful… a child of sorrow." (cited Kearns; Ibid; p.70). But the result was as Carl Zigrosser puts it, a:
"Critical Marginal Notes on the Article, "The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian"; From Collected Works Volume 3; Moscow; 1975; p. 201. Cited in: "Marx & Engels On Literature And Art"; Moscow; 1976; p. 433.
"Landmark of class-conscious art".When shown at the Great Berlin Exhibit of 1898, the series caused a sensation. The Artists Jury was presided over by the renowned bourgeois realists Max Libermann and Adolf Menzel. The series was awarded the Artists’ Jury of Award Gold Medal, but Kaiser Wilhelm II vetoed this decision. The Kaiser called all socially conscious art "Rinnsteinkunst" (gutter art). One year later, after a showing the Dresden museum brought the prints, and the King of Saxony agreed with the Museum Director Max Lehrs – that she be awarded a Gold Medal. As a woman of thirty-two, Kollwitz described the effect:
"Prints & Drawing of Käthe Kollwitz"; New York; Dover Publications; 1969; Introduction; p.ix.
"From then on, at one blow, I was counted among the foremost artists of the country";The sequence of pictures in the Weavers Series is: "poverty"; "death"; "conspiracy" (See this at http://www.csulb.edu/library/arts/ - Use side bar menu to go to Kolwitz)
Cited by Kearns Ibid; p.76.
"They grieve, march, fight bravely-and it is they who stand stalwart in loss. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Kollwitz’ "child of sorrow’ presented the death of a child is the force that drove a community of workers to revolt".Kollwitz continued on with the theme of women as revolutionaries, within the people's movement. Her etching with acquaint "der Aufruhr"["Uprising" finished 1899] showed peasants in revolt over whom a woman hovers with a flame (See this at http://www.csulb.edu/library/arts/ - Use side bar menu to go to Kolwitz). But it was in her later series about the German Peasant War, that she depicted most vividly the woman revolutionary – as a direct comrade-in-arms and participant – with men in revolution. She had begun reading Charles Dickens’ "A Tale of Two Cities", about the French Revolution. She came across his description of the band of women singing "La Carmagnole" ("O, let us dance the Carmagnole, Long Live the sound of the Cannon!"). According to Sheila Rowbotham, women revolutionaries formed their own battle battalions. As Dickens puts it in A Tale of Two Cities:
Kearns; Ibid; p. 75.
"There was no music other than their own singing. They danced to the popular revolution song, keeping a ferocious time that was like a gnashing of teeth in unison."Kollwitz’s print (etching with acquatint) of the Carmagnole, with revolutionary women dancing around a guillotine, became popular. She read Zimmerman’s "The Great German Peasant’s War", describing how peasants rose against their serf oppressions. This print series took her six years to complete from 1902-08. Kollowitz turned to an incident of 1525, in which a woman, "Black Anna," inspired peasants to revolt against injustice. The series begins with "Losbruch" [Outbreak], where peasants rise, incited by Black Anna’s signal.
Cited Kearns; p. 84.
"Gives me opportunities…to express.. what always moves me again and again, and has not been said enough: the many quiet and loud tragedies of city life".Kollwitz’s Relationship To Communism
Bonus-Jeep: "Sechzig Jahre Freundshaft mit Käthe Kollwitz (Sixty Years of Friendship with Käthe Kollwitz")"; Berlin; Boppard, Karl Rauch Verlag, 1948; p.101; Cited by Kearns; Ibid; p.108.
".. I simply should have been left alone, in tranquillity. An artist.. cannot be expected to unravel these crazily complicated relationships. As an artist I have the right to extract the emotional content out of everything, to let things work upon me and then give them outward form. And so I have the right to portray the working class’s farewell to Liebnicht, and even dedicate it to the workers, without following Liebnicht politically. Or isn’t that so? "In contrast to these sectarian attitudes of the KPD, the non-sectarian attitudes of Marx and Engels to the non-party poet Heinrich Heine whose art they admired and published, and likewise Lenin’s to the non-party writer Tolstoy, should be cited.
Kollwitz "Diary & Letters"; Ibid; p. 98; Cited by Kearns Ibid; p. 163.
She herself openly stated that she was not a communist.
"In the meantime I have been through a revolution, and I am convinced that I am no revolutionist. My childhood dream of dying on the barricades will hardly be fulfilled, because I should hardly mount a barricade now that I know what they are like in reality. And so I know now what an illusion I lived in for so many years. I thought I was a revolutionary and was only an evolutionary. Yes sometimes I do not know whether I am a socialist at all, whether I am not rather a democrat instead. How good it is when reality tests you to the guts…Konrad & I too would have probably been capable of acting in a revolutionary manner if the real revolution had had the aspect we expected. But since its reality was highly un-ideal and full of earthly dross-as probably every revolution must be - we have had enough of it. But when an artist like Hauptmann comes along and shows us revolution transfigured by art, we again feel ourselves revolutionaries, again fall for the old deception. June 28th, 1921".She knew that her artistic contents, had led many people to protest that she was only dwelling on the gloomy side of things. She viewed this as necessary, since it was life, and besides - it was true:
"Diary & Letters of Käthe Kollwitz"; Edited Hans Kollwitz; Translated R & C Winston; Henry Regnery Co; Chicago; 1955; ; p.100
"May 1917:But there can be absolutely no doubt whose side she was on. She was a clear and open supporter of the workers and their cause. She believed in the Soviet Union:
My Hans – .. this issue of the Montsheft … there is an essay on my show in it. An essay by Liese which I like very much. …. She makes a point, which is for the most part ignored when people assert that my one subject is always the lot of the unfortunate, Sorrow isn’t confined to social misery. All my work hides within it life itself. And it is with life that I contend through my work. It is difficult to express oneself clearly about one’s work. At any rate I feel that Lise’s conception is very close to mine…"
"Diary & Letters of Käthe Kollwitz"; Edited Hans Kollwitz; Translated R & C Winston; Henry Regnery Co; Chicago; 1955; p. 157.
"This is not the place for us to discuss why I am not a Communist. But it is the place for me to state, that, as far as I am concerned, what has happened in Russia during the last ten years seems to be an event which both in stature and significance is comparable only with that of the great French revolution. An old world, sapped by four years of war and undermined by the work of revolutionaries fell to pieces in November 1917. The broad outline of a new world was hammered together. In an essay written during the early years of the Soviet Republic, Maksim Gorki speaks of "flying with one’s soles turned upwards". I believe that I too can sense such flying in the gale inside Russia. For this flying of theirs, for the fervor of their beliefs, I have often envied the Communists."
Written 1927, for Arbeiters International Zeitung ("The Workers International Paper): Cited in Kearns Ibid; p. 194.
This was written, on the occasion of a visit to Russia sponsored and paid for by the Soviet Union, as part of the exhibitions of her work held in Soviet Russia. These were held, during the 10th anniversary celebrations of the October Revolution. Her work was very popular in the Soviet Union. That visit inspired her later art as well. In the mass rally in Red Square, she had seen a scene of men and women crossing arms and singing the "Propeller song." Later, at the request of Soviet artists, she translated a sketch of this, into a statement on the imperialist war on the Soviet Union – in the print "Wir Schutzen die Sowejetunion (Das Propellerlied)"; [Solidarity-We Protect the Soviet Union – The Propeller Song]. (An earlier print, made into a famous poster, called "Hilfe Russe!" ["Help Russia"] - was made to gather solidarity for the Soviet Union, at the time of the imperialist encirclement following the October Revolution; and it can be seen at this web site: http://www.csulb.edu/library/arts/ ). She also drew at the same mass rally, a sketch of a man with his two children listening to a political speech at the same rally of the 10th anniversary, which later became the print "Zuhorende" [Listening].
Moreover, she did not accept the state of affairs, as a fate simply to be given and to be accepted for ever and ever. She wrote to her remaining son Hans, about the example of the Soviet Union:
"My Dear Hans!…. You know how at the beginning of the war you all said: Social democracy ahs failed. We said that the idea of internationalism must be aside right now but back of everything national the international spirit remains. Later on this concept of mine was almost entirely buried; now it has sprung to life again. The development of the national spirit in its present form leads into blind alleys. Some condition must be found which preserves the life of the nation, but rules out the fatal rivalry among nations. The social democrats in Russia are speaking the language of truth. That is internationalism. Even though, God knows, they love their homeland. It seems to me that behind all the convulsions the world is undergoing, a new creation is clearly in the making. And the beloved millions who have died have shed their blood to raise humanity higher than humanity has been. That is my politics, my boy. It comes from faith. April 2, 1917. "But, she was no sentimentalist either, and she painted and drew life as it really was. Her view of art and art’s mission was explicit. She was asked by several Humans Rights Aid groups (Including that set up by the Comintern leader Willi Munzenberg), to do posters on aid for Vienna. In this united front she worked with Albert Einstein, Upton Sinclair and others. In connection with the wood-cut she did: "Wien Stirbt! Rettet Seine kindern!" [Vienna is dying! Save her children!], she said:
Käthe Kollwitz; "The Diary & letters of Kaethe Kollwitz"; Edited Hans Kollwitz; Chicago 1955; Published by Henry Regnery Company; p. 156
"I have again agreed to make a poster for large-scale aid program for Vienna. I hope I can make it… it has to be done quickly…. I want to show Death.. swing(ing) the lash of famine… I really feel the burden I am bearing, I have no right to withdraw from the reasonability of being an advocate. It is my duty to voice the suffering of men, the never-ending sufferings heaped mountain high….. January 4th 1920" .
"Diary & Letters of Käthe Kollwitz"; Edited Hans Kollwitz; Translated R & C Winston; Henry Regnery Co; Chicago; 1955; ; p.100
"At such moments, when I know I am working with an international society opposed to war, I am filled with a warm sense of contentment. I know, of course, that I do not achieve a pure art in the sense of Schmidt-Rottluff’s, for example. But still, it is art. Everyone works the way one can. I am content that my art should have purpose outside of itself. I would like to exert influence in these times when human beings are so perplexed and in need of help. Many people feel the obligation to help and exert influence but my course is clear an unequivocal; November 1922."On a series of woodcuts that took her years to summarise the 1914-1918 war, a series called War, she wrote:
"Diary & Letters of Käthe Kollwitz"; Edited Hans Kollwitz; Translated R & C Winston; Henry Regnery Co; Chicago; 1955; ; p.104.
"This series of woodcuts is more human; it attempts to grasp and express that time. … I have received a commission from the International Trade Union Congress to make a poster against war. That is a task that makes me happy. Some may say a thousand times, that is not pure art, which has a purpose. But as long, as I can work, I want to be effective with my art";It is no surprise that organizations like the Trade Union Congress in Amsterdam, and the International Workers Relief Organisation asked her to do posters for them. She was invariably able to hit the graphic messages that were needed - whether for homes and against miserable housing as in 1912 "fur Gross Berlin –"Spielen Verboten" [For a Greater Berlin! ‘Playing In the Yard Is Forbidden!’]; food: "Deutschlands Kinder Hungern! [Germany’s children are Starving] in 1924; or anti-war work: Die Ubelrlebenden [The Survivors] in 1920; or internationalism in 1924: Verbruderung [Brotherhood].
Briefe der Freundschaft und Begegungen (Letters of Friendship & Acquaintance"; Ed Hans Kollwitz; Munich; List Verlag, 1966. p.95; Cited in Kearns Ibid, p.172;
Relationship of Her Work to Bourgeois Artistic Movements – Der Blaue Reiter, Die Brucke, German ExpressionismBy now it should be obvious to the reader, that her work bore little relationship to officially sponsored art. Of course the best representatives of bourgeois realism had recognized her work from its first blasts - artists of the caliber of Max Liebermann and Adolf Menzel, and even Max Klinger. But, her work focused more steadily and unflinchingly on the need for change. It did not simply record the life of the workers, even though with sympathy, as Liebermann and Menzel had done in their bourgeois realist manner. She went beyond sympathy. Even if the KPD did not quite see this, it was true. As such the attempt by some non-Communist art commentators to classify her with three bourgeois art movements must be considered. All three in one form or another, were reactionary movements, that were set against the realist art known as Impressionism.
One was Der Blaue Reiter ["The Blue Rider] formed in 1911 by Franz Marc. It was named after a painting by Marc. This movement was characterised by the view that art should discard:
"External realties in favour of the expression of the artists inner-spiritual psychological or emotional - truths."
Martha Kearns Ibid; p. 139.
"Their bond was a general desire to embody symbolically in their painting spiritual realities, which it was thought had been neglected by the Impressionists."Die Brucke ["The bridge"] formed in 1905 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottlufff. It was named from a desire to serves as a bridge to the art of the future. It ist rue that they were moved by an "impulse of revolt", and wished to battle "established older forces". But they were anti-realists:
"Oxford Dictionary of Art"; Ibid; p.66.
"In practice they turned against realism and Impressionism and under the influence of Munch and Hodler created an intense and sometimes angst-ridden version of the Expressionism which stemmed from Van Gogh, Gaughin, the Nabis etc….. forms were often harshly distorted…. Violence was exploited for its own sake; forms and colours were tortured in the attempt to give psychological and symbolic vent to a vaguely conceived creative urge and a sense and a sense of revolt… In 1913 Kirchner wrote: "We accept all the colours which, directly or indirectly, reproduce the pure creative impulse".One could reply to Kirchner, which colours are not part of the "pure" creative impulse? This movement believed in a "pure art" and an art imbued with the artist’s "inner life".
"Oxford Dictionary of Art"; Ibid; p. 87; p.192
By 1916, both the two schools had dissolved into the broader school of German Expressionism. They brought with them a common belief in the primacy of ‘inner life’. The Editors of the Oxford Dictionary of Art, define Expressionism as being that:
"Term…, in which traditional ideas of naturalism are abandoned in favour of distortions and exaggerations of shape or colours that urgently express the artists emotion. … art that elevates intense subjective reactions above the observation of the external world.. The principles of Symbolism .. became of importance for Expressionism proper as a vehicle of communication".It should be obvious from both Kollwitz’s work alone – and her own descriptions of her absorption with the life and concerns and struggles of the workers and peasants – that she could not possibly ally herself with these types of artistic philosophy. Thsoe that turned away form the world.
"Oxford Dictionary of Art"; Ibid; p.191.
By definition that inward turning
– away from the world external and denying its’ reality – served the interests
of the bourgeoisie. This is irrespective of the objective desires of the
artists in that movement. It is objectively, Idealism
in art. It came to its pinnacles in the various art movements
such as Surrealism, and Art
Dada. Even though some of its exponents were attempting to turn
away from the capitalist values that had brought the First World War, its
sterility, elitism and 'intellectualism' was to condemn its exponents to
an alienation from the masses. The best artists managed to break through
this barrier, recognizing that this was no solution to the problem. These
included Helmut Herzfeld or John Heartfield,
as previously discussed by Alliance. But Kollwtiz was never distracted
by these ephemeral movements.
The editors of the Oxford Dictionary of Art mistakenly state:
"In its elimination of the accidental instinctive gasp of the tragic essential, and its poignant concern for human suffering Kollwitz’s work represents one of the highpoints of German Expressionism and of 20th century art";But clearly, Kollwitz was the antithesis of these various German movements, culminating in German Expressionism. She described it herself, describing her work as unlike the "pure art of Schmidt-Rottluff" – as cited above. But her journal entry for 1916 is even blunter:
"Oxford Dictionary Art"; Ibid; p. 303.
"E.Von Keyserling …. Opposes expressionism and says that after the war the German people will need eccentric studio art less than ever before, What they need is realistic art. I quite agree - if by realistic art, Keyserling means the same thing I do…Official Recognition
It is true that my sculptural work is rejected by the public. Why? It is not at all popular. Art for the average spectator need not be shallow. Of course he has no objection to the trite - but it is also true that he would accept art if it were simple enough. I thoroughly agree that there must be understanding between the artist and the people. In the best ages of art that has always been the case. Genius can probably run on ahead and seek out new ways. But the good artists who follow after genius - and I count myself amongst these - have to restore the lost connection once more. A pure studio art is unfruitful and frail, for anything that does not form living roots - why should it exist at all?
Now as for myself. The fact that I am getting too far away form the average spectator is a danger to me. I am losing touch with him. I am groping in my art….. I vowed to myself and Peter that I would be more scrupulous than ever in "giving the honor to God, that is, in being wholly genuine and sincere". Not that I felt myself drifting away from sincerity. But in groping for the precious truth one falls easily into artistic over-subtleties and ingenuities - into precocity. I… must watch out. Perhaps the work on (Peter’s) memorial will bring me back to simplicity".
"Diary & Letters of Käthe Kollwitz"; Edited Hans Kollwitz; Translated R & C Winston; Henry Regnery Co; Chicago; 1955; pp.68-69.
Hitler And the Final YearsIn 1932 Kollwitz joined with other socialists in signing an appeal of unity against the Nazi Party. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, she was forced to resign from the Academy, along with Heinrich Mann – a co-signatory of the appeal of unity against the fascists. In 1936 she was barred by the Nazis from exhibiting, her art was not formally labelled as classified as 'degenerate', but her works were removed from galleries. Following an interview with her that appeared in the Russian Izvestia (1936), she was threatened by the Nazis. They did not actually follow through their threats to imprison her, probably because of her fame, and the popularity of both herself and her husband in the working class neighborhoods of Berlin.
She died on 22 April 1945, two weeks before the end of World War II.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING
NB: The best illustrations are to be found in Zigrosser’s compilation.
Kollwitz, Kathe: "Tageubuchblatter und Briefe [Diary & Letters]"; Ed Hans Kollwitz; Berlin; Gebruder Mann Verlag; 1948
Kollwitz, Kathe: "Diary & Letters of Käthe Kollwitz"; Edited Hans Kollwitz; Translated R & C Winston; Henry Regnery Co; Chicago; 1955
Kearns, Martha: "Käthe Kollowitz: Woman and Artist"; New York: The Feminist Press, 1976
"Marx & Engels On Literature And Art"; Moscow; 1976
Mina C. Klein and H. Arthur: "Käthe Kollwitz: Life and Art"; New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1972
"The Oxford Dictionary of Art"; Editors Ian Chilvers & Harold Osborne; Oxford; 1997
Zigrosser, Carl: "Prints & Drawings of Käthe Kollwitz"; Dover Publications; New York; 1969
For additional web sources on Kollowitz, including illustrations see:
This web-site has some 29 of her works, including drawings and posters. It is the best of the web-resources that we have found thus far: At the site: go to Kathe Kollwitz on the side menu-bar- there are three seperate sub-menus showing her work. http://www.csulb.edu/library/arts/