A Portrait of the Artist
April 13 through June 25, 2010
The Galerie St. Etienne is simultaneously celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Käthe Kollwitz Museum in Cologne, Germany, and Hildegard Bachert’s 70th year at the gallery with a special loan exhibition, KÄTHE KOLLWITZ: A Portrait of the Artist. Drawn principally from the holdings of the Kollwitz Museum, the Stoll-Heydebrand Collection in Switzerland and a private collection in the U.S., the show focuses on the autobiographical core of Kollwitz’s achievement, as revealed in her self-portraits and related works. Bachert, who joined the staff of the Galerie St. Etienne in 1940 at the age of nineteen, is one of the world’s foremost Kollwitz experts.
Comprising over 60 museum-quality drawings and prints, many of them rare states and worked-over proofs, KÄTHE KOLLWITZ: A Portrait of the Artist is a biography in pictures. Early works, such as the 1889 ink drawings Self Portrait and Self-Portrait with Fellow Student, reveal a determined twenty-two-year-old beginning to assert her identity. Motherhood deepened Kollwitz’s identification with the anxieties of working-class women, epitomized by the ever-present threat of a child’s death. Numerous famous images, including Death, Woman and Child (1910), Death Tearing Sick Child Away from Mother (1911) and Death and Woman Wrestling Over a Child (1911), depict mothers battling death for their children’s lives. For the 1903 etching Woman with Dead Child, Kollwitz prophetically posed with her seven-year-old son Peter, who would be killed on the battlefield in Belgium in 1914. Mourning Peter and grappling with the significance of his death shaped Kollwitz’s mission for the rest of her life. Focusing on the impact of war upon its survivors, she created some of the twentieth century’s most famous anti-war images, including The Waiting (The Fear) (1914), Killed in Action (1919) and The Parents (reprised as a drawing, 1915; a lithograph, 1919; and a woodcut, 1921-22). Her life-sized monument of the grieving parents was installed in 1932 at the military cemetery where Peter was buried. Kollwitz came to believe that, as a woman and as an artist, she had a dual duty to nurture the seed of her talent and the seed of her womb. In her monumental penultimate lithograph, Seed for Sowing Must Not be Ground (1941), she issued a fervent plea that future generations not be squandered on the battlefield.
Kollwitz’s probing of the human condition did not entail an effacement of her personal identity, but on the contrary, began and ended with her own experiences. Creating over 100 self-portraits in a career spanning six decades, she ranks alongside Rembrandt, Corinth and Schiele as one of the most prolific exponents of the genre. KÄTHE KOLLWITZ: A Portrait of the Artist includes twenty-six overt self-portraits, and many more images depicting women who resemble the artist or are her spiritual surrogates. The exhibition begins chronologically with the ink drawing Study Sheet with Two Self-Portraits (circa 1888-91). The artist’s appearance, serious and prematurely old even in youth, does not change as much as might be expected in the self-portraits that follow her to the age of seventy-one, concluding with the lithograph Self-Portrait in Profile Facing Right (circa 1938). Endeavoring to locate and expose her core self, the artist depicts a constant unwavering state of inquiry: a searching, rather than a finding; a questioning, not an answering.
“I want to be free of everything that hinders my real self…. I want to develop myself, that is, to unfold, [to be] myself, Käthe Kollwitz.”
— Käthe Kollwitz, February 1917
Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) was encouraged to pursue art by her father, a Protestant pastor whose commitment to social justice likewise shaped his daughter’s political beliefs. She became engaged to the physician Karl Kollwitz at the tender age of seventeen, and against the odds, managed to combine marriage, motherhood and a career as one of Germany’s most prolific and successful printmakers. Her career was launched when, in 1899 she received the “small gold medal” for her print series Revolt of the Weavers and cemented with her etching cycle The Peasants’ War. Printmaking allowed Kollwitz to reach the working-class audience whose travails she depicted in her art, in the hopes of bettering their lot. The social activism that Kollwitz had embraced from the outset came into vogue during the liberal Weimar era, and in 1919 she became the first female Professor at the Prussian Academy of Art. During the 1920s, she created numerous memorable posters on behalf of various political causes, and executed two further print cycles in woodcut, War and the Proletariat. Her final print cycle, Death (1934-37), reflects the aging artist’s gradual acceptance of death. Censorship by the Nazis prevented her from doing many prints after this time. She died in 1945, four months before the armistice that ended World War II.
KÄTHE KOLLWITZ: A Portrait of the Artist is accompanied by a detailed checklist containing
a scholarly essay by Galerie St. Etienne Co-Director Jane Kallir, which is available free of charge by mail, or can be downloaded from our website: http://www.gseart.com.