Käthe Kollwitz: Life, Death, and War

Käthe Kollwitz, one of the 20th century’s greatest socialist artists, has an exhibition of 40 prints and drawings at the National Gallery until 10 December. 

Socialist Worker

Käthe Kollwitz: Life, Death, and War

6 September – 10 December 2017, National Gallery of Ireland |, Free admission

By John Molyneux

It is a wonderful show but be prepared to be moved almost to the point of hurt.

Kollwitz was born in Koningsberg in Prussia in 1867 into a Social Democratic family.

In 1891 she married Karl Kollwitz, a doctor who tended to the poor in Berlin, and this brought her into regular contact with working class people, especially women, who became her main subjects throughout her life.

At the beginning of the First World War in 1914 she, under the influence of the German Social Democratic Party, supported the War.

But later, following the loss of her son, she turned against the War, supported the main anti-war campaigner Karl Liebknecht, and became a Communist which she remained to her death in 1945.

Her work deals almost always with poverty, suffering and grief.

She expresses the horror of war not through pictures of the fighting itself but mainly through showing the grief of those who lose loved ones, above all the grief of mothers with which she was closely personally identified.


She also produced series of prints and woodcuts depicting the Silesian Weavers Revolt of 1844 which influenced Marx and the barbarities of the Peasant War of the 16th century when tens of thousands of rebelling peasants were slaughtered.

Kollwitz’s dark work – dark in colour and in atmosphere – makes you feel the hardships, and the heroism, of working people through the ages, like a kick in the guts.

Strong stuff indeed which still stands as an indictment of the system we live under.

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