The Krieg Cycle (War Cycle)
Following World War I, Kollwitz’s former enthusiasm for revolution had died along with her son Peter. After seeing an exhibition of fellow artist Ernst Barlach’s woodcuts in June of 1920, she declared that her lithographs were a failure: “Barlach has found his way, but I have not yet.” She stated that she was striving for a simple and direct mode of expression. Kollwitz’s post-World War I War (Krieg) Cycle (1921–22) shows a dark reality. In contrast to her earlier series, the War Cycle does not follow any narrative. Although her subjects are ostensibly emotionally naked and vulnerable, their representation in bold woodcut lines conveys a raw strength and power. Her presentation of the female subject at this time in a characteristically “masculine” medium creates a powerful tension within the works.
Equally significant is the iconography she borrowed from Christian art. Kollwitz appropriated the popular Renaissance theme of Mary as a protective mother, known as the Schutzmantelmadonna (Sheltering-cloak Madonna or Virgin of Mercy), and recast it as a secular motif. In Kollwitz’s early work, women’s arms were raised to incite a revolutionary crowd, or used as an omen of approaching death. In the War series they have been recast to serve as protective havens or to cover one’s grief.
Images TOP to BOTTOM: Kӓthe Kollwitz. German, 1867–1945. Mütter (The Mothers). 1919. Lithograph on paper. Gift of Mrs. John Wintersteen (Bernice M. McIlhenny, class of 1925); Agostino Carraci; Veronese, Italian 1557–1602, 1528–1588. The Virgin Protecting Two Members of a Religious Order, n.d. Purchased.