Käthe Kollwitz

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The simple fact of the matter was that I found the proletariat beautiful

Käthe Schmidt Kollwitz (1867-07-081945-04-22) was a German painter, printmaker, and sculptor whose work offered an eloquent and often searing account of the human condition in the first half of the 20th century. Her empathy for the less fortunate, expressed most famously through the graphic means of drawing, etching, lithography, and woodcut, embraced the victims of poverty, hunger and war.


  • Der Künster ist meist ein Kind seiner Zeit, besonders, wenn seine eigene Entwicklungsperiode in die Zeit des frühen Sozialismus fällt. Meine Entwicklungszeit fiel in die Zeit des frühen Sozialismus. Dieser ergriff mich gänzlich. Von einer bewußtn Arbeit im Dienste des Proletariats war damals für mich keine Rede. Was kümmerten mich aber Schönheitsgesetze, wie zum Beispiel die der Griechen, die nicht meine eigenen waren, von mir empfunden und nachgefühlt? Das Proletariat war für mich eben Schön.
    • The artist is usually a child of his times, especially if his formative years fell in the period of early socialism. My formative years coincided with that period, and I was totally caught up in the socialist movement. At that time, the idea of a conscious commitment to serve the proletariat was the farthest thing from my mind. But what use to me were principles of beauty like those of the Greeks, for example, principles that I could not feel as my own and identify with? The simple fact of the matter was that I found the proletariat beautiful.
    • Reply to questionnaire sent to prominent artists, (1942/1943), quoted in Otto Nagel, Käthe Kollwitz, trans. Stella Humphries (New York Graphic Society, 1971)
The Grieving Parents (1932)
  • I have received a commission to make a poster against war. That is a task that makes me happy. Some may say a thousand times that this is not pure art.... but as long as I can work, I want to be effective with my art.
    • Letters of Friendship and Acquaintance (Briefe der Freundschaft und Begegnungen), ed. Hans Kollwitz (Verlag, 1966), p. 95; cited in Martha Kearns, Käthe Kollwitz: Woman and Artist (1976), p. 172
  • The working-class woman shows me much more than the ladies who are totally limited by conventional behavior. The working-class woman shows me her hands, her feet, and her hair. She lets me see the shape and form of her body through her clothes. She presents herself and the expression of her feelings openly, without disguises.
    • Quoted in Martha Kearns, Käthe Kollwitz: Woman and Artist (The Feminist Press, 1976, ISBN ISBN 0-912-67015-0), p. 82
I want to have an effect on my time, in which human beings are so confused and in need of help
  • My work is not, of course, pure art in the sense that Schmidt-Rottluff's is, but it is art nonetheless... It is all right with me that my work serves a purpose. I want to have an effect on my time, in which human beings are so confused and in need of help.
    • Quoted in Renate Hinz, Käthe Kollwitz: Graphics, Posters, Drawings (Random House, 1981, ISBN 0-394-74878-6), Introduction, p. xxiii

The Diary and Letters of Käthe Kollwitz (1955)

Trans. Richard and Clara Winston, ed. Hans Kollwitz, Regnery Pub.; republished by Northwestern University Press, 1988
  • I am gradually approaching the period in my life when work comes first. When both the boys went away for Easter, I hardly did anything but work. Worked, slept, ate and went for short walks. But above all I worked. And yet I wonder whether the "blessing" is not missing from such work. No longer diverted by other emotions, I work the way a cow grazes.
    • Diary entry (April 1910)
  • For the last third of life there remains only work. It alone is always stimulating, rejuvenating, exciting and satisfying.
Mother with Two Children (1936)
  • There must be understanding between the artist and the people. In the best ages of art that has always been the case. Genius can probably run on ahead and seek out new ways. But the good artists who follow after genius — and I count myself among these — have to restore the lost connection once more.
  • I felt that I have no right to withdraw from the responsibility of being an advocate. It is my duty to voice the sufferings of people, the sufferings that never end and are as big as mountains.
  • I have been through a revolution, and I am convinced that I am no revolutionist. My childhood dreams of dying on the barricades will hardly be fulfilled, because I should hardly mount a barricade now that I know what they were like in reality. And so I know now what an illusion I lived in for so many years. I thought I was a revolutionary and was only an evolutionary. Yes, sometimes I do not know whether I am a socialist at all, whether I am not rather a democrat instead. How good it is when reality tests you to the guts and pins you relentlessly to the very position you always thought, so long as you clung to your illusion, was unspeakably wrong.
Pietà (1937)
  • For me the Koenigsberg longshoremen had beauty; the Polish jimkes on their grain ships had beauty; the broad freedom of movement in the gestures of the common people had beauty. Middle-class people held no appeal for me at all. Bourgeois life on the whole seemed to me pedantic.
    • "In Retrospect" (1941)
  • Every war already carries within it the war that will answer it. Every war is answered by a new war, until everything is smashed. That is why I am so wholeheartedly for a radical end to this madness and why my only hope is in world socialism.
  • Pacifism simply is not a matter of calm looking on; it is hard work.
Grave of Käthe Kollwitz, Berlin

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