Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945) was a German painter, printmaker, and sculptor whose work offered an eloquent and often searing account of the human condition, and the tragedy of war, in the first half of the 20th century.
Kollwitz was born on June 8, 1876 in Königsberg, a formal province of Prussia, as the daughter of Karl Schmidt and his wife Katharina. The artist spend a part of her childhood in Königsberg, where she also attended a first art class and learned to paint as well as doing copper engravings and at the age of thirteen the young talented girl made first copper engravings.
In 1885/86 she attended an association in Berlin of female artists. There she got in contact with the poet Arno Holz as well as with the writer Gerhard Hauptmann. Later she met the sculptor Max Klinger, whose sculptures influenced her artwork.
In 1886 she returned to her hometown and attended classes under the painter Emil Neide at the Art Academy of Königsberg.
In 1891, she married Karl, by this time a doctor, who tended to the poor in Berlin, where the couple moved into the large apartment that would be Kollwitz`s home until it was destroyed in World War II.
Two years after she gave birth to her first son, Kollwitz gained first great success in 1898 with her work “March of the Weavers” that she exhibited at the “Great German Art Exhibition in Berlin”. In 1901 she became a member of the “Berlin Secession”, where she participated from 1901 until 1913.
In 1910 she started to create sculptures; her style was kind of similar to the sculptures of Ernst Barlach.
1919 she was appointed professor and became the first woman of the “Prussian Art Academy”. But in 1933 she and the writer Heinrich Mann were forced to leave the Academy because both supported the so called “Urgent Appeal” of the left-wing party. And in 1936 her artworks got removed from the Berlin Academy Exhibition.
Kollwitz was also working as an artist during the dark period of World War II and created several sculptures, like “Farewell” in 1940/41 and several lithographs. Working in a smaller studio, in the mid-1930s she completed her last major cycle of works, lithographs, called Death.
She moved first to Nordhausen, then to Moritzburg, a town near Dresden, where she lived her final months as a guest of Prince Ernst Heinrich of Saxony. Kollwitz died just before the end of the war.
Kollwitz made a total of 275 prints, in etching, woodcut and lithography. Virtually the only portraits she made during her life were images of herself, of which there are at least fifty. These self-portraits constitute a lifelong honest self-appraisal.