Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) is one of the most important female sculptors and printmakers of the 20th century.
Kollwitz – the 150th anniversary of whose birth falls tomorrow – was an eloquent advocate for victims of social injustice, war, and inhumanity. In 1922–23 she produced the cycle War in woodcuts, and in 1924 she finished her three most famous posters: Germany’s Children Starving, Bread, and Never Again War.
In 1933, the Nazi Party forced her to resign her place on the teaching faculty of the Akademie der Künste and her work was removed from museums. Working in a small studio, she completed her last major cycle of lithographs, Death, before she and her husband were visited by the Gestapo in July 1936 and threatened with arrest and deportation to a concentration camp. They resolved to commit suicide if the prospect became inevitable.
In 1937, on her 70th birthday, she received congratulatory telegrams from leading artists and collectors as well as offers to house her in the USA, which she refused for fear of provoking reprisals against her family. Her husband died from an illness in 1940 and her grandson, Peter, died in action in 1942. Kollwitz was evacuated from Berlin in 1943, and later that year her house was bombed and many drawings, prints, and documents were lost.
Kollwitz lived her final months as a guest of Prince Ernst Heinrich of Saxony, dying just 16 days before the end of World War II. Her empathy for the less fortunate, expressed most famously through etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, and drawings, embraced the victims of poverty, hunger, and war. Her most famous image is probably the 1924 drawing entitled “Never Again War.” It became an icon of the global movement for peace and freedom.
After German reunification in 1990, the Neue Wache on Berlin’s Unter den Linden was rededicated as the “Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship”. At the suggestion of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, an enlarged version of Käthe Kollwitz’s sculpture Mother with her Dead Son – a modern pietà – was placed underneath an opening in the roof exposed to the rain and snow of Berlin weather, as a symbol of the suffering of civilians during World War II.