Kentucky Art Speaks

Artist: Present & Past

In Artist: Present & Past on October 1, 2010 at 8:00 am

Woman with Dead Child, 1903.

One cannot look at the work of Kathe Kollwitz without feeling the infinite pain and sorrow she dealt with throughout her life. Kollwitz was a German living in the late 19th and early 20th century, and the greater part of her life was filled with war, poverty, and death.

While one artist’s nationality has minimal effect on her work, another artist’s work may become consumed by events taking place in her homeland. This week’s questions on examining the success of a work of art are simple:

What is the artist’s nationality? Is this evident in the artist’s work?

Kathe’s work is still so powerful because her themes of sadness and loss are something anyone can understand. A universal theme is something that can determine the success of an artwork. Upon seeing her work and knowing she lived in Germany at the turn of the 20th century, it’s pretty easy to guess the injustices and tragedies Kollwitz witnessed firsthand. Obviously, her work would be completely different if it had not been for her experiences in Germany , and her name may have died with her.

Kathe’s life began quietly; she was born in 1867, married in 1881, and had two sons in the 1890’s. She was a Socialist, and her early work includes representations of the poor and the working class. After the beginning of WWI, Kathe’s son Peter became a soldier for the German Army was killed soon after. She then started a series of drawings illustrating the impact war had on women. Kathe, a talented draftsman, became the first woman to be elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts, but in 1933, when Hitler came to power, she was expelled from the Academy . In 1936 she was barred by the Nazis from exhibiting, her art was classified as ‘degenerate’ and her works were removed from galleries. The Gestapo came to the Kollwitzs’ home and threatened her and her husband with the possibility that they could be taken to a concentration camp. Kathe’s grandson, also named Peter, was killed in WWII. During 1943, her house was bombed and many drawings, prints, and documents were lost. She died just before the end of the war.

What do you think?

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