Kathe Kollwitz, born in 1867, was one of the most prominent female art expressionist of her time. She gave visual form to the issues of society’s injustice and suffering, and brought into the lime light for others to take a note of. Being raised in a middle-class family which was politically progressive, Kollwitz relished the support her family offered and availed it to pursue her ambitions for art. In the year 1889, Kollwitz fell in love with a medical student and got engaged to him. Although her father suggested her to prefer art over marriage, persuading and sending her to Munich to progress her studies further in the discipline of Art. After completion of her graduation in 1891, Kollwitz return to Berlin, marrying Karl Kollwitz, her fiancé.
Kollwitz was studying both printmaking and painting, however she realigned her focus towards printmaking at the start of the year 1890. This was majorly reflective of the influence she got from her fellow artist, Max Klinger, who became a major inspiration towards her development in the field of printmaking. She saw the underlying potential in print due to its capacity to translate and convey message in forms of social commentary. Another prominent factor for her preference towards print included the fact that they were inexpensive and could be reprinted countless times for people to read.
Kollwitz, as an inspiration art expressionist of her time, spent majority of life dedicated towards creating dramatic, capturing emotion in forms of etchings, lithographs, and woodcuts. Most of the aforementioned were in the forms of black and white. Among the models she took the inspirations from included the working class patients under the care of her husband. Many of the subjects she focused on, were a reflection of both World War I and World War II. Saddened over the sights of loss and suffering many people faced, much shaken for losing her son to World War I and soon after the loss of her grandson to World War II.
Kollwitz earned a lot of fame based on the wrenching subjects and her virtuoso technique, gaining her popularity throughout Western World and Germany. Although this fame also attracted a lot of criticism, forcing her to resign from her position of a first female professor, while she was serving in Prussian Academy, in 1919. The Nazi government’s influence soon grew to the extent of forbidding her to exhibit her art (Barron et al., 1997). In her final years, she created sculptures made out of stone and bronze, featuring the subjective and aesthetic values embodying the two dimensional value in her work. Although most of her work was later on destroyed at the time of Berlin Air Raid in the year 1943. Kollwitz evacuated and relocated in Moritzburg, town situated outside of Dresden, which became her final resting place.
Kathe Kollwitz – Structural Analysis of “Mother and Dead Child”
Figure 1 Kathe Kollwitz – Mother and Dead Son
From an analytical perspective, the engraving directly into the picture of a mother and her dead child, which then was applied with colors consistent of different shades of greys, black and white. She uses a unique etching style, adding a diversity in the tone, accompanied with use of shadowing and imprints in a bolder form. Employing the use of different forms of dark, she uses strong lines while accommodating it by leaving out whiter spaces. This amplifies the contrast between the values of light and dark colors, making the image more prominent and bringing forth the portions reflective of light. Kollwitz has engraved the image, shown above, on to either wood, lino or metal.
Adding color into the picture with the use of different shades, Kollwitz imbues it with elements of emotion and influence, while engraving it on paper or canvas. The painting of “Mother and dead child” portrays the time of German Expressionism Art Movement (Zigrosser 1969). An analytical perspective of the painting reveals the motherly figure, fully naked from her head till the tip of her toe, holding a child in her arms while she’s sitting down cross-legged. The pictures exhibits a strong embodiment of an emotional image within itself. The mother’s hair and part of her forehead is visible, while she is seen in a sitting position with her legs in a flat position, one leg parallel to her body, whereas the heel of one foot facing an inwards direction, particularly pointed towards her face. Her other foot is placed on her left knee, over her lower thigh. The right leg is positioned in such a way, to provide support for her child, her hands are gripping around the torso of her child, holding the child up.
Kollwitz employs the use of different forms of thin and thick lines, imbuing texture, expression and form into the picture. She has closely paid attention to the value of each line etched into the painting. She has used a unique form towards giving texture to the faces by distinguishing them with a preferred selection of a different line thickness. The placement of dark areas bring about special focus towards the depiction of eyes embodying sadness or exhibiting roughness on her hands. Kollwitz uses a different approach towards negative spacing in her work (Rukeyser 1968, 99-105). In this picture she is found to have represented the two figured pressed closely together, while adding negative space around the edges to keep the viewer’s attention locked on to the painting. This points towards her use in craftily eliminating the use of personal space in the picture. The use of color in the picture brings an intensity towards the emotional value embedded in the representation of the figures. The use of emphasis highlights the smart use of value, line and space which brings forth the attention towards the emotions in the picture.
Analyzing the background reveals the importance of adding shadows in various place to evoke power into the image. The direction of the light source is evident to be from the left, by analyzing the portions of the body being hit by it, necessarily shining on to the woman and the child in portions that provide an artistic effect on it. The way the female figure is displayed, exhibits that she has been in this state due to circumstances of her actions. The woman appears to be in a deep saddened state. From a close analysis of the pose, it is evident that the emotional stature of the woman provides a clue into the feelings a mother goes through, as she holds on to the very life she gave birth to, now lifeless and dead in her arms. Kollwitz has rendered this piece in an excellent form, providing evidence towards Kollwitz’s personal experience towards the feelings a mother would go through, since she lost her son in World War I and her grandson in World War II. The picture holds a meaning so well embedded that it cannot be judged in a quick glance but requires a viewer to brings themselves close to what a mother feels and the emotions she bears at the loss of her child. The best aspect of the picture is in relation to this picture revealing the loss Kollwitz felt at the loss of two of the closest lives to her. The loss of her child and then of her grandchild, both which cannot be replaced and she’s forever lost herself in the sadness of it.
Kathe Kollwitz, who has been best known for her expressionism in art, produced many wonderful and meaningful art pieces. She devoted herself to pursuing art and finally settled with continuing printmaking forms of art. Kathe Kollwitz, being greatly criticized by the Nazi government and removed from her position as professor in Prussian Academy. She continued on working with creating sculptures for the rest of her life. One of the major inspiration towards her development in the field of printmaking was her inspirational fellow artist, Max Klinger. She saw the underlying potential in print due to its capacity to translate and convey message in forms of social commentary. Among the models she took the inspirations from included the working class patients under the care of her husband. Many of the subjects she focused on, were a reflection of both World War I and World War II. Although most of her work was later on destroyed at the time of Berlin Air Raid in the year 1943. Kollwitz evacuated and relocated in Moritzburg, town situated outside of Dresden, which became her final resting place.
The painting of Mother and Child, painted by Kathe Kollwitz is a representation of a mother, holding a dead child in her arms while displaying the emotional feelings of her loss. The picture holds a meaning so well embedded that it cannot be judged in a quick glance but requires a viewer to bring themselves close to what a mother feels and the emotions she bears at the loss of her child. The best aspect of the picture is in relation to this picture revealing the loss Kollwitz felt at the loss of two of the closest lives to her. The loss of her child and then of her grandchild, both which cannot be replaced and she’s forever lost herself in the sadness of it. The picture is a true representation of one of her best works yet.
Barron, Stephanie, et al. German expressionism: art and society. Thames and Hudson, 1997.
Rukeyser, Muriel. “Kathe Kollwitz.” The Speed of Darkness (1968): 99-105.
Zigrosser, Carl. Prints and Drawings of K the Kollwitz. Courier Corporation, 1969.
Schulte, Regina, and Pamela Selwyn. “Käthe Kollwitz’s Sacrifice.” History Workshop Journal. Oxford University Press, 1996.