Käthe Kollwitz: Making Peace with Art

Ted Grimsrud—October 9, 2011

In the late 1800s, an emerging young graphic artist moved into inner city Berlin with her physician husband—he to serve Germany’s poorest people, she—it seemed—to forfeit her promising career in order to accompany the doctor as he followed his calling.

As it turned out, though, the artist, Käthe Kollwitz, became internationally renowned as one the greatest creators of peaceable art in the twentieth-century. Kollwiz discovered her focus in those hard years in the big city. Like few others, she captured the pain, struggles, and beauty of history’s forgotten people.

With black and white drawings, woodcuts, and sculpture—and with an amazing reservoir of respect and compassion—Kollwitz gave to the ages unforgettable images of dignity amidst poverty and despair, resolve in the face of crushing injustice, and the occasional joy of human celebrations and solidarity.

In spite of her social location, Kollwitz did gain renown as an extraordinary artist. Then came another turn in her choice of subject matter. Beginning in 1914, Germany entered into a terrible dark age. Total war followed by overwhelming famine. Kollwitz had for many years been a political radical—but with the war and its consequences, she became a pacifist and devoted her art to a profoundly moving series of works that capture the trauma, senselessness, and, ultimately, evils of war.

However, though it is protest art, resistance work that can touch and inspire, Kollwitz’s anti-war pieces share the deep, deep compassion and empathy of her earlier portraits of poverty and struggle.

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