Sunday, 17 September 2017

Käthe Kollwitz - Ikon

Käthe Kollwitz, Self Portrait, 1904
Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz is at Ikon until 26 November 2017.
In his succinct and moving account of Käthe Kollwitz’s life and work, Neil McGregor makes a persuasive case for her being one of the ‘greatest German artists’. (Listen here.)
Kollwitz worked, principally, as a printmaker and took social injustice, pain and suffering as her overriding themes. Her compassionate approach achieves work of considerable pathos – evident, for example, in Woman with Dead Child, 1903. The model for the child was her own son, Peter. As McGregor points out, this proved to be tragically prophetic: his discussion focuses on her sculpture Mother with Her Dead Son, which is in the Neue Wache (New Guardhouse) on Unter den Linden in Berlin, where it serves as a memorial to ‘victims of war and dictatorship’. (See image at bottom of page.) The sculpture was her own memorial to Peter. The story is that at 18, in 1914 at the outbreak of the first World War, Peter wished to volunteer for military service but, being under 21, could only do so with parental consent. Peter’s father at first refused but was persuaded to relent by Käthe. Peter was killed in action a mere 10 days after joining up. Grief, guilt and a fervent pacifism marked the rest of Kollwitz’s life. She died in 1945.
Although her work may seem unrelenting in its representation of pain and suffering, it is also beautiful and, I think, unsentimental in its honesty. This exhibition mostly drawn from the print collection of the British Museum is a rare opportunity to see work by this major artist.
Listen to Neil McGregor’s BBC radio talk: Käthe Kollwitz: Suffering Witness; listen to a review of the exhibition on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Review (16.9.17, starts at 27mins.)
Read a reviews by Anna McNay and Skye Sherwin.
Käthe Kollwitz, Woman with Dead Child, 1903
Käthe Kollwitz, Not (Want), 1893-7
Käthe Kollwitz, Bust of a Working Woman With Blue Shaw, 1903
Käthe Kollwitz, Death and Woman, 1910
Käthe Kollwitz, Self Portrait, 1924
Käthe Kollwitz, Self Portrait, 1924
Käthe Kollwitz, Mother with her Dead Son in the Neue Wache, Berlin
Käthe Kollwitz, Mother with her Dead Son in the Neue Wache, Berlin

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