Often seen as universal images of women, war, and suffering, the works of Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945) offer powerful testimony not only concerning the ravages of the two World Wars on her own life, but about the socio-political realities of Germany’s role in this history.
Written accounts of history are limited in what they can disclose of people’s motivations. Kollwitz’s diary, used in the exhibition as a context and lens for viewing her artwork, offers rich insights into her internal struggles, not only as a German female artist and social activist during the two World Wars, but also as the mother of two sons, one of whom was killed on the battlefield. The personal circumstances of her life and work offer an incisive perspective on the contradictions and perplexities of wartime experience.
Drawn from the Museum’s collections of prints with loans from private and public collections, the exhibition locates Kollwitz’s works in their political, historical, and cultural context. Women and mothers are a particular focus, featuring prominently in Kollwitz’s work as heroic rebel rousers and activists, as breadwinners and protective guardians of children, and, in her later work, as victims or mourners of the dead. The exhibition also presents her works in broader terms, from Weimar politics to the Nazi propaganda machine and various social programs enacted to embrace “women’s issues.”
Kollwitz strove to find the humanity within the brutal events that unfolded from one war to the next. She turned to her art not only as an outlet to express and reflect upon her personal anger and loss, but also to answer to the call to make a difference in broader political terms and to seek some way to resist the cycle of destruction. This is her story....
Image: Lotte Jacobi. American, born Germany, 1896–1990. Printed by Carlos Richardson. Portfolio I; Kathe Kollwitz. 1931 negative; 1978 print. Gelatin silver print. Purchased. Image courtesy University of New Hampshire.