Kathe Kollwitz and War

(This is an edited version of a justification of an acquisition at the Davis Museum. The original can be found in the object file for 2014.127.1-.7. The works were on display at the Davis from Sept 16 to Dec 13 2015 and are part of a book edited by Dr. Claire Whitner.)

A self-portrait of the artist, from her later years. PC: Ketter Kunst

Käthe Kollwitz (born 1867 in Köningsberg, East Prussia (now Russia), died 1945 in Mortizburg) was a German printmaker, sculptor and peace activist. Born to a middle income family, her father encouraged her education as an artist. Throughout her life, she became interested in the socialist movement, contributing more after World War I. The survivor of two world wars, she depicted the lives of women and other less fortunate groups of people. This is demonstrated in her 1898 Weavers and 1902-1908 Peasant War cycles, which are the best known of her career.

March of the Weavers, 1897 PC: Minneapolis Institute of Art

Kollwitz’s print cycle War (Krieg) comprises seven woodcuts created in 1922/23. Kollwitz began working on the series in 1918, drawing on motifs she started developing during World War I after the death of her youngest son, Peter, in October 1914. She sought to capture the wreckage wrought by war beyond the trenches. The seven prints depict its social toll, due in particular, to the decimation of the population of healthy young men in the era of mechanized war. The plates are as follows: The Victim, The Volunteers, The Parents, The Widow I, The Widow II, The Mothers, and The People.

Krieg (War) 1922. PC: The Davis Museum

The series was first printed in 1923 as an edition of 100 on japan paper by Kollwitz’s publisher, Emil Richter, in Dresden. The set is number 33 from this original printing. The set was originally packaged in wove-paper envelope with an impression of Widow I (Plate IV), which is now missing. The fact that the print number is so low is an indication of the value of the work. Intact sets of Kollwitz’s War (Krieg) are very rare. In the past 20 years, only three other complete sets have been sold at auction. They signify good value and having them in the collection continues the tradition of representing female artists.

Die Witwe I (The Widow I) 1922, PC: The Davis Museum and Cultural Center

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