Memorial for Karl Liebknecht
Memorial for Karl Liebknecht, 1920
Woodcut on paper
Image: 34.9 x 49.9 cm (13 3/4 x 19 5/8 inches)
Anonymous gift 2005.142.14
(July 28 –November 26, 2006)
While experimenting with her memorial to Karl Liebknecht in etching and lithography, Kollwitz attended an exhibition of works by Ernst Barlach (German, 1870-1938). A book of woodcuts by Barlach may be viewed in the case in this gallery. Kollwitz wrote:
…I saw something that knocked me over: Barlach’s woodcuts. Today I’ve looked at my lithographs again and seen that almost all of them are no good. Barlach has found his path and I have not yet found mine. I can no longer etch; I’m through with that for good. [Journal entry of June 25, 1920]
Kollwitz sold this woodcut, her first, in an unlimited edition at the Worker’s Art Exhibition, Berlin, in 1920. The composition of men hunched in mourning over the body of the fallen revolutionary brings to mind a Christian Lamentation.(November 5, 2004 – January 23, 2005)
Karl Liebknecht co-founded the Spartacus Union, which became the German communist party, and led the revolutionary uprising in Berlin in January 1919. On January 15, 1919, he and fellow Spartacus leader Rosa Luxemburg were taken prisoner by right-wing militiamen and brutally killed. The murders shook the dream of working-class revolution and revealed the ruthlessness of right-wing forces.
Kollwitz drew Liebknecht on his funeral bier and gradually developed this print over the next two years. In her diary she stated: “As an artist, I have the right to extract the emotional content from everything, to let it make an impression on me and to express it externally. So I also have the right to represent the workers’ farewell to Liebknecht, even to dedicate it to the workers, without thereby following Liebknecht politically. Or not?!” (Kollwitz, October 1920 entry, Tagebücher, p. 438; cited in Martin Fritsch, ed., Käthe Kollwitz: Zeichnung, Grafik, Plastik. Leipzig: 1999, p. 210).