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Käthe Kollwitz Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Käthe Kollwitz was the first comprehensive treatment of this influential artist to be written in English, although other publications, primarily lists of her works or reproductions of her prints, did appear before 1972. The book was not intended only for youthful audiences or for students of biography, as it is a significant contribution to the history of German art from the beginning of the twentieth century to 1945, but the clear, accessible writing and Kollwitz’s exemplary life give the work great appeal for young readers. It can be used by students in several areas of the curriculum and deserves study especially because of the moral stance adopted by the artist throughout her life.

The narrative describes Kollwitz’s social background, taking a traditional psychological approach to the role of her maternal grandfather, father, and closest female sibling in the formation of the artist’s attitudes. Throughout her life, Kollwitz was a solitary, taciturn person, sufficiently fulfilled by her relationships to close family members and by artistic expression. Her father was disappointed that she was a girl: He believed that her obvious talent would go unnoticed because she was supposed to be destined for marriage. Indeed, her sister Lina’s interest in art—as considerable as Küthe’s, according to reports—was abandoned at the time of her early marriage.

Kollwitz, who had met her future husband at the age of seventeen, did not marry until many years later. The authors relate in some detail how, under the tutelage of a single teacher and then at art schools in Berlin and Munich, she attempted to perfect her technique—not as a painter but as a printmaker, lithographer, sketcher in black and white, and, finally, as a sculptor. For her sculpting, she was inspired by Ernst Barlach and a few others, but she was largely self-taught.

After her marriage, the artist continued to create, using a studio near the family home in Berlin. Her two sons, and children in general, were of the greatest importance to her. With the help of a housekeeper and because of her husband’s uncharacteristically modern attitude of pride in his wife’s work, Kollwitz spent a lifetime testifying to the needs of the poor, who could not speak for themselves. Her posters for social action, her large parental figures that she sculpted to mourn the death of her son, her illustrations of such books as the naturalist drama Die Weber (1892; The Weavers , 1899) by Gerhart Hauptmann, and her series of woodcuts on the subject of death are all unforgettable. Kollwitz was also a mentor to young artists, a foster parent, and a teacher and valued colleague for Berlin artists and museum directors,...

(The entire section is 687 words.)