Today we’re remembering German artist Käthe Kollwitz, born on this day in 1867.
Born into a comfortable middle-class family, Käthe Kollwitz focused her art on the desperate condition of the peasants and proletariat with whom she came into contact, first through literary sources and then directly through her husband’s medical practice. She explained in an interview that these subjects interested her more for aesthetic than social reasons, but she is remembered as a socially engaged artist who protested vehemently against World War I. Here again she felt some ambivalence, as she supported her son’s decision to volunteer to join the German army against her husband’s wishes. His death in Flanders shortly after enlisting became the fulcrum upon which her later art balanced.
This powerful woodcut comes from her most famous series. About it she wrote in her diary, “Yet again I am not finished with the War series. Done the sheet ‘Parents’ over again. Suddenly it looks entirely bad to me. Far too bright and hard and distinct. Pain is totally dark.” Although she was dissatisfied with the outcome, the woodcut medium, its heavy black planes slashed here with stark white highlights, aptly conveys the sense of nearly uncontrollable parental grief at the loss of a child.
Käthe Kollwitz, Die Eltern [The Parents], plate III from Sieben Holzschnitte Zum Krieg [Seven Woodcuts on War], 1922-23, woodcut, Transfer from the General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin, 1996.