Käthe Kollwitz, artist and pacifist

‘I am in the world to change the world.’

 

One of Berlin’s best galleries is the small museum dedicated to Käthe Kollwitz, one of the city’s most eminent artists of the twentieth century. Tucked away in East Charlottenberg, it makes a nice getaway from the enormous collections concentrated on Museum Island. Four floors exhibit paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures along with a wealth of information about Kollwitz’s life and works. It certainly isn’t a bundle of laughs. But the heartfelt, mesmerising quality of her art leaves you feeling moved, even uplifted, despite the sorrow it so intensely expresses.

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Käthe Kollwitz, New York Public Library (1919)

A staunch pacifist, Kollwitz blurred the boundaries between art and activism. Works like the woodcut series Krieg (War, 1922-23) and the anti-hunger lithography Brot! (Bread!, 1924) rail against hardships of life in early twentieth-century Germany. For her, art should reflect society as it was for the many, and in doing so, perhaps one day change it. Etchings of starving children holding out soup bowls stand beside prints of emaciated beggars and war-torn communities. ‘More than a life’ is the slogan of the museum – yet the autobiographical significance of her work is crucial. After the death of her son Peter in Flanders in 1914, the harsh contours and dark lines of her etchings are shocking. In a way that resembles Goya, each series aims to depict the suffering of every individual, giving humanity back to those who have been dehumanised by pain and poverty.

Motherhood is one of the key themes of her oeuvre, and this is where love and intense emotion shine through in a poignant exposition of the human condition. The fourth floor of the museum is dedicated to Kollwitz’s sculpture, the work that was most important to the artist. Heavily influenced by Rodin, their three-dimensional aspect allow her figures to embrace, melding into one another while still retaining their difference. A mother protects two children – she is the eternal shelter that binds life together, her sacrifice immortalised in bronze.

The Käthe Kollwitz Museum is open daily 11am – 6pm, Fasanenstr. 24 10719 Berlin.

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