Käthe Kollwitz epitomises 20th century art like no other artist, particularly in the genres of graphic art and sculpture. Her works often centre on human suffering, social injustice and the effects of war. Her powerful depictions were already deeply moving and inspiring during her lifetime. The works bear witness to an intense examination of human destiny and society, immediately captivating the viewer and allowing them to make connections to their own experiences. Kollwitz, whose work occupies an important position in German art history, experienced a chequered career with phases of great recognition and periods of political repression. After her death in 1945, her work was honoured uninterruptedly, and today her works are firmly anchored in the collective cultural memory, always open to new interpretations.
Käthe Kollwitz: Losbruch, Bl. 5 der Folge «Bauernkrieg», 1902/03, Aquatinta, Foto: Städelmuseum Frankfurt a. Main

Käthe Kollwitz: Losbruch, Sheet 5 of the series «Bauernkrieg», 1902/03, Aquatinta, Photo: Städelmuseum Frankfurt a. Main

Käthe Kollwitz was born Käthe Schmidt in Königsberg on 8 July 1867. The then Prussian city was an important cultural and intellectual centre. Her youth was characterised by the progressive ideas of her father and the liberal, social reformist ideas of her surroundings. Her talent for drawing was evident from an early age, which she developed further from 1881 in an art class for women and later at the art school in Berlin.

From 1885, Kollwitz continued her education in Munich, where she studied the socially critical works of Wilhelm Leibl, among others. In 1891, she married the doctor Karl Kollwitz and moved to Berlin, where she created a significant body of work over the following decades, characterised by strong empathy and social commitment. Her series Ein Weberaufstand (A Weavers' Revolt), created between 1893 and 1897 and focussing on social protest and the plight of the weavers, was particularly influential.

Kollwitz lost her youngest son Peter during the First World War, a stroke of fate that shook her to the core and had a lasting influence on her work. It was during this time that she created the haunting graphic series War, which emphasises the suffering and despair of people. Her commitment against war and in favour of peace earned her the commission to create the memorial Die trauernden Eltern (Grieving Parents) for the German military cemetery in Belgium in 1924.

Käthe Kollwitz: Die Mütter, Bl. 6 der Folge «1921/22», Holzschnitt

Käthe Kollwitz: Die Mütter, Sheet 6 of the series «Krieg», 1921/22, Wood print, Photo: Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln


Despite her great artistic success and international recognition, Käthe Kollwitz' life was characterised by political turbulence and personal misfortune. During the National Socialist era, her works were defamed as «degenerate» and removed from public collections. She herself had to endure numerous humiliations and threats, but nevertheless remained in Germany and continued to stand up for her artistic convictions.

Käthe Kollwitz died in Moritzburg near Dresden on 22 April 1945, just a few days before the end of the Second World War. Her work remains an unshakeable testimony to human dignity and the tireless struggle for justice and peace.
Käthe Kollwitz: Selbstbildnis von vorn, 1922/23  Holzschnitt auf Japanpapier, 151 × 156 mm (Druckstock), 203 × 187 mm (Blatt) , Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main  Foto: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

Käthe Kollwitz: Selbstbildnis von vorn,1921/22, Woodblock print on Japanese paper, Photo: Städelmuseum Frankfurt a. Main


To coincide with the exhibition at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt in 2024, Hatje Cantz Verlag has published a book that takes an in-depth look at Kollwitz's work. In it, the author and curator Regina Freyberger paints a comprehensive picture of the artist and offers new perspectives on her impressive oeuvre.

published June 26, 2024 – László Rupp


Veröffentlicht am: 02.07.2024