This exhibition celebrates a recent gift from an anonymous donor consisting of three drawings and sixty-three prints by the German artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945). The gift represents about a quarter of the artist’s known prints, establishing RISD as a major center for the study of graphic art by this technically innovative and profoundly admired artist. Käthe Kollwitz’s long life spanned the Empire of Wilhelm I (1871-1918), the ill-fated Weimar Republic (1919-33), and the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich (1933-45).
During the first year of World War I (1914), Kollwitz lost Peter, the younger of her two sons. In World War II, she lost not only her home and studio in Berlin to Allied bombing, but also her grandson, named after her son Peter. Often described as a socialist, Kollwitz never joined a political party, but remained a devoted pacifist. Although she shared some common goals with various leftist movements, she described herself as an “evolutionary” rather than a revolutionary. Throughout her creative life, Kollwitz’s focus on the under classes-those parts of the population whose needs were overlooked by the government-never wavered. She wrote in her personal journal: “It is my duty to voice the sufferings of humankind, the never-ending sufferings heaped mountain-high. This is my task, but it is not an easy one to fulfill (January 4, 1920).”
Kollwitz never abandoned either her figural style or her commitment to the graphic arts. She employed etching, woodcut, and lithography with equal dedication. The rejected states, experiments with different media, and preparatory drawings on view help to elucidate the process by which Kollwitz arrived at the powerful visual rhetoric of her finished works. In her consistent transformation and reevaluation of her art, she pursued the technical and formal means by which best to arouse emotions and to exhort action.