The Death Cycle

In August 1934, as the world around her was crumbling, Kollwitz decided to undertake what she foresaw would be her last print series based on the theme of death. A project she had been contemplating since 1922. The series of nine lithographs presents death in all its guises with an emphasis on women and children. The unembellished and soft strokes of the lithographic crayon created an unsettling otherworldly effect in these works. In the last work in the series, a self-portrait titled Ruf des Todes (Call of Death), Death gently touches Kollwitz on the shoulder. Her eyes are closed and her head leans to the side; her arm and hand are raised as if she is prepared for Death to take her.

The omnipresent destruction all around Kollwitz took its toll. She wrote in a letter to her best friend: “Every war already carries within it the next war, until everything is destroyed,” and, “When that happens, only the devil may know what the world will look like, what Germany will look like.” Her house in Berlin destroyed by bombing, she spent her last days secluded in Moritzburg. Germany near Dresden at the estate of an aristocratic admirer. Frail and ailing, as death finally approached, she wrote: “The war accompanies me till the bitter end.”



Image: Käthe Kollwitz. German, 1867–1945. Ruf des Todes (Call of Death). 1937. Chalk lithograph printed on cream-colored wove paper. Gift of Mary B. Mace, class of 1935, in memory of Jere Abbott. ©2016 Artists Right Society (ARS), New York.