The Schmidt family involvement with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) enabled Käthe to meet another young member, Karl Kollwitz. He was an orphan who lived with a family in Konigsberg. Like her father he was passionately interested in politics and introduced her to the writings of August Bebel. This included his pioneering work, Woman and Socialism (1879). In the book Bebel argued that it was the goal of socialists "not only to achieve equality of men and women under the present social order, which constitutes the sole aim of the bourgeois women's movement, but to go far beyond this and to remove all barriers that make one human being dependent upon another, which includes the dependence of one sex upon another."
Käthe was particularly impressed with one passage of the book that stated: "In the new society women will be entirely independent, both socially and economically... The development of our social life demands the release of woman from her narrow sphere of domestic life, and her full participation in public life and the missions of civilisation." Bebel also predicted the dissolution of marriage, believing that socialism would free women from their second-class status.
At the age of sixteen Käthe tried to enter the Königsberg Academy of Art. However, as a female, her application was rejected and so her father arranged for her to study under the painter, Emile Neide. He introduced her to work of the French artist, Gustave Courbet, who was the leader of the realist movement. Influenced by this attempt to capture the reality of everyday life, in 1883 she completed The Emigrants, a work that had been inspired by a poem of that name by Ferdinand Freiligrath.
In 1884 Karl Schmidt arranged for Käthe and Lise to visit Berlin. While in the city they stayed with their elder sister, Julie, and her husband. He was a close friend of the young poet and dramatist, Gerhart Hauptmann. He invited Käthe and Lise to a dinner party that was attended by two artists, Hugo Ernst Schmidt and Arno Holz. Hauptman described Käthe as "fresh as a rose in dew, a charming, clever girl, who, because of her extreme modesty, did not speak freely about her calling as an artist but let it be known by her sure, sensitive manner." Käthe was also impressed with Hauptman: "It was an evening that left its mark... a wonderful foretaste of the life which was gradually but irresistibly opening up for me."
Karl Kollwitz became a medical student and in 1884 he asked Käthe to marry him. Her agreement to his proposal upset her father who feared that marriage would inhibit her artistic career. He arranged for her to study at the Berlin School for Women Artists, where she studied under Karl Stauffer-Bern. He introduced her to the work of Max Klinger. Käthe's biographer, Martha Kearns, has pointed out: "She (Käthe) had never heard of Max Klinger, Prussia's most skilled artist of the then-popular naturalism, a school of thought which deemed people to be predetermined victims in a bitter struggle for survival. As an art form, naturalism emphasized photo like images of actual persons, scenes, and conditions, often in the most minute, even microscopic detail. Unlike artists working in other styles, naturalist artists featured women as subjects as frequently as men."
The author of Käthe Kollwitz (1976) has pointed out that "these fifteen etchings was that of a young woman who lost her virginity to her lover and who thus, in the eyes of the bourgeoisie, had fallen into unredeemable sin.... One print, Into the Gutter, shows a young woman being shoved into an open sewer by a horde of grotesque, sadistically grinning figures." Käthe wrote in her journal: "It was the first work of his I had seen, and it excited me tremendously."
Käthe became friends with fellow art student, Emma Jeep. As women they were not allowed to attend life-drawing classes (this did not change in Berlin until 1893). At Käthe's request, Jeep often posed nude for her in the privacy of their rooms. The two women became close friends and this relationship lasted for the rest of Käthe life. At the time, Jeep was highly critical of Käthe's decision to get engaged. Jeep was a feminist and believed marriage would damage a woman's career as an artist.
In her journal Käthe admitted that she was attracted to women: "Although my leaning toward the male sex was dominant, I also felt frequently drawn toward my own sex-an inclination which I could not correctly interpret until much later on. As a matter of fact I believe that bisexuality is almost a necessary factor in artistic production; at any rate, the tinge of masculinity within me helped me in my work." Her biographer, Martha Kearns, has pointed out: "It is not known whether she ever acted on her feelings for women, whether she wanted to, or whether she would have been able to, considering her society's prohibitions and her own inhibitions."
Käthe intended to continue her studies with Karl Stauffer-Bern but in 1888, Friedrich Welti, a very wealthy businessman, agreed to finance a stay in Rome for Stauffer-Bern. Soon afterwards, Stauffer-Bern, began a sexual relationship with his wife, Lydia Welti-Escher. When news of the relationship reached Welti, he used his government contacts to have Lydia committed to an asylum, and Stauffer-Bern was briefly sent to prison under trumped-up charges. On his release he committed suicide.
In 1888 Käthe went to study at the Munich Women's Art School. She also joined the informal Composition Club, that met at the Glücks-Café. Other members included Otto Greiner, Alexander Oppler and Gottlieb Elster. Käthe impressed fellow members when she exhibited for the first time at the club. The drawings were illustrations of a coal miner's strike. That night she wrote in her journal: "For the first time I felt that my hopes were confirmed; I imagined a wonderful future and was so filled with thoughts of glory and happiness that I could not sleep all night."
Käthe and Jeep also joined the Munich Etching Club. Later, Jeep described Käthe's first lesson: "The coal-black plate was now ready for drawing, so she found an empty table to work. Her right hand gripped the etching knife surely as she pressed it into the black wax. The manner in which she etched was much freer and more expressive than what they were used to; her etching looked more like a pen-and-ink drawing. Gradually the copper lines showed the face of an old man... The copper face shone out impressively from the blackened plate; she felt satisfied, and ready to etch... She continued to work industriously. Her style of secure and penetrating lines was already apparent."
Käthe continued to take a keen interest in politics. She was impressed with the work of Karl Kautsky, who was considered the best interpreter of the theories of Karl Marx. She spent a lot of time with fellow artist, Helene Bloch, who had a studio in Königsberg. She recorded in her journal that "we had weekly get-togethers in my studio during which we read Kautsky's popularization of Marx's ideas."
According to the author of Käthe Kollwitz (1976), Käthe gradually began to give up on painting: "By this time she was able to draw with pen, pencil, chalk, and charcoal; paint with ink and wash, and etch; but she could not lift the same scene intact onto canvas. Try as she might to perfect her painterly technique in the same way that she had mastered drawing and etching, she found that she had no feel for color or its great and subtle uses; nor did colour or nature inspire her in the same way as the lines and expressions of working people."
In 1891 Karl Kollwitz qualified as a doctor and obtained a position in a working-class area of Berlin. In a response to the growing support of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Otto von Bismarck had introduced the first European system of health insurance in which accident, sickness, and old age expenses of the workers and their families were covered by a government health insurance. As a socialist, Karl wanted to serve the poor and this new legislation made this possible.
Karl now asked Käthe to marry him. Käthe recorded in her journal how disappointed her father had been by the news: "He had expected a much faster completion of my studies, and then exhibitions and success. Moreover, as I have mentioned, he was very skeptical about my intention to follow two careers, that of artist and wife." Shortly before her wedding on 13th June, 1891, her father told her, "You have made your choice now. You will scarcely be able to do both things. So be wholly what you have chosen to be."
The couple moved to an apartment on 25 Weissenburger Strasse, on the corner of Wörther Platz. At first, Karl attracted very few patients. Käthe recorded: "We often stood at the window or on the tiny corner balcony, watching the passersby in the street below, hoping that one or other of them would find his way into the waiting-room." Next to Karl's office on the second floor was Käthe studio. It was a completely plain room as she liked to work without any visual distractions.
In May, 1892, Käthe Kollwitz gave birth to her first child, a son, they called Hans. She soon began to use her son as a model. In his first few months she did eighteen drawings of him. Karl kept his promise and "did everything possible so that I would have time to work". As soon as they could afford it, a live-in housekeeper was hired to help her with her child-rearing duties.
In 1893 Käthe took part in a joint exhibition of Berlin artists. One leading art critic, Ludwig Pietsch, complained that the organisers had allowed a woman to exhibit. However, another critic, Julius Elias, wrote: "In almost every respect the talent of a young woman stands out. A young woman who will be able to bear the insult of this first rejection lightly, for she is assured of a rich artistic future. Frau Kollwitz perceives nature readily and intensely, using clear, well-formed lines. She is attracted to unusual light and deep colour tones. Hers is a very earnest display of artwork." Encouraged by these positive comments, Kollwitz began work on a series of drawings that illustrated the novel, Germinal.
On 28th February, 1893, Käthe Kollwitz attended a performance of The Weavers, a new play by Gerhart Hauptmann. The play dealt with a real historical event. In June 1844 disturbances and riots occurred in the Prussian province of Silesia during an economic recession. A large number of weavers attacked warehouses and destroyed the new machinery that was being used in the industry. The Prussian Army arrived on the scene and in an attempt to restore order fired into the crowd, killing 11 people and wounding many others. The leaders of the weavers were arrested, flogged, and imprisoned. Karl Marx wrote about this event, claiming that the uprising marked the birth of a German workers' movement.
The theatre critic, Barrett H. Clark, has argued in The Continental Drama of Today (1914): "Hauptmann may be said to have created a new form of drama in The Weavers, and that form is what may be designated as the tableau series form, with no hero but a community. As the play is not a close-knit entity, the first act is casual, and might open at almost any point; and since it starts with a picture, or part of a picture, there is hardly anything to be known of the past. The result is that no exposition is needed. The audience sees a state of affairs, it does not lend its attention and interest to a story or the beginning of a plot or intrigue. This first act merely establishes the relation between the weavers and the manufacturers. There is no direct hint given in the first act as to what is to come in the second; the first is a play in itself, a situation which does not necessarily have to be developed. It does, however, prepare for the revolt, by showing the discontent among the downtrodden people, and it also enlists the sympathy of the audience."
Despite a Berlin police ban on all public performances of this play, the Berliner Freie Bühne, featuring Else Lehmann, performed the work. Käthe Kollwitz later recalled: "The performance was given in the morning.... My husband's work kept him from going, but I was there, burning with anticipation. The best actors of the day participated, with Else Lehmann playing the young weaver's wife. In the evening there was a large gathering to celebrate, and Hauptmann was hailed as the leader of youth.... The performance was a milestone in my work. I dropped the series on Germinal and set to work on The Weavers."
Kollwitz spent the next five years producing a series of lithographs illustrating the uprising. 1. Poverty; 2. Death (a weaver's child dies of hunger); 3. Conspiracy (the weavers plan to avenge the deaths of their children); 4. Weavers on the March (the weavers march to the factory owner's home); 5. Attack (the weavers attack the mansion owned by the factory owner); 6. The End (the consequences of the uprising).
Martha Kearns has argued: "Kollwitz's meticulous craft and her aesthetic and political vision of the working-class man and woman are apparent in The Revolt of the Weavers. The first lithograph, Poverty, pictures a crowded room in which a child is sleeping in a bed in the foreground. The mother, with deeply wrinkled brow, is stooped over the bed, her large, bony hands clutching her head in despair. Father and another child sit huddled by the back window, anxiously watching the sleeping child. The small window lightens the sleeping child's face, but only partially draws out the features of the watching family. The parents' steady gaze at their sick child reflects uneasy despair. An empty loom, ominous sign of unemployment, fills the back of the room."
In 1896 Käthe Kollwitz gave birth to her second son, Peter. She later explained that this "wretchedly limited" her "working time". However, her work did not suffer: "I was more productive because I was more sensual, I lived as a human being must live, passionately interested in everything."
In the summer of 1896 Karl Schmidt became very ill. With his wife he moved to Rauschen to recuperate. Käthe Kollwitz produced a drawing for him on his seventieth birthday. Käthe recorded in her diary: "He was overjoyed. I can still remember how he ran through the house calling again and again to Mother to see what little Käthe had done." Her father died in the spring of 1897. Käthe admitted that his death affected her art: "I was so depressed because I could no longer give him the pleasure of seeing the work publicly exhibited that I dropped the idea of a show." However, her friend, Anna Plehn, took over and entered The Revolt of the Weavers in the Great Berlin Exhibition. Death sold on the third day of the exhibition for 500 marks.
Adolf Menzel, who was considered the most important artist in the country, was so impressed with The Revolt of the Weavers that he proposed, as a member of the jury, to award the prestigious Gold Medal to Kollwitz. However, Wilhelm II, who disapproved of her socialist sympathies, vetoed the nomination.
The following year, The Revolt of the Weavers, was exhibited at the Dresden Museum. The museum director proposed to the King of Saxony that Kollwitz be awarded the gold medal. The monarch agreed and in 1899 he conferred upon her the award. She wrote in her journal: "from then on... I was counted among the foremost artists of the country".
Käthe Kollwitz now began work on another series of etchings that dealt with the harsh conditions being endured by the working-class in Berlin. Completed in 1900, The Downtrodden, examines the lives of three victims of poverty. Kollwitz later recalled: "My real motive for choosing my subjects almost exclusively from the life of the workers was that only such subjects gave me a simple and unqualified way what I felt to be beautiful... The broad freedom of movement in the gestures of the common people had beauty. Middle-class people held no appeal for me at all. Bourgeois life as a whole seemed to me pedantic. The proletariat, on the other hand, had a grandness of manner, a breadth to their lives."
Kollwitz was especially interested in the lives of women. She often drew the women in her husband's waiting room: "The working-class woman shows me, through her appearance and being, much more than the ladies who are totally limited by conventional behaviour. The working-class woman shows me her hands, her feet and her hair. She lets me see the shape and form of her body through her clothes. She presents herself and the expression of her feelings openly, without disguises."
Kollwitz agreed to teach part-time at the Berlin School for Women Artists. This included graphic arts and life drawing. However, she never felt comfortable doing this work: "I had to show the class how to make an etching ground. The process was a book with seven seals to me and I perspired with embarrassment as I started to trot out my meager knowledge before the eager girls standing in a group around me."
In 1904 Kollwitz visited Paris where she met Lily and Heinrich Braun, who were proposing a new socialist art journal, The New Society. While in the city she visited three of her fellow students at the Munich Women's Art School who had settled in France. One of the women was living in extreme poverty with her eleven-year-old son. Kollwitz agreed for Georg Gretor, to live with her in Berlin.
Kollwitz also visited the studio of Auguste Rodin. She later recalled: "I shall never forget that visit. Rodin himself was taken up with other visitors. But he told us to go ahead and look at everything we could find in his atelier. In the center of a group of his big sculptures the tremendous Balzac was enthroned. He had small plaster sketches in glass cases. It was possible to see the full scope of his work, as well as to feel the personality of the old master."
Max Klinger used his success to help younger artists. This included establishing the Villa Romana Prize. He purchased a villa in Florence, to which he invited outstandingly gifted artists (and their families) to live for cost free for up to a year. According to Martha Kearns the idea was for the artist to be given the opportunity to absorb "the rich influences of Medieval and Renaissance works of Florentine art." In 1906 Kollwitz was awarded the prize. She took her son Peter to the villa to help him recover from tuberculosis.
Kollwitz spent her time studying the frescoes, sculpture, architecture and painting in the city. In her journal she explained that she found little to inspire her and during her stay in Italy she produced no work: "The enormous galleries are confusing, and they put you off because of the masses of inferior stuff in the pompous Italian vein. And so I have been trying the churches, with better luck. There are magnificent frescoes in the churches... And finally I again ventured into the Pitti and Uffizi Galleries. There are beautiful works here and there in them, but only here and there, it seems to me."
While in Florence Kollwitz met her old friend, Emma Jeep, who had recently married Arthur Bonus. She also spent time with local artist, Constanza Harding. After Peter Kollwitz had returned to Berlin, the two women decided to hike through the tiny villages along the coastal route to Rome. A journey of around 150 miles.
On her return to Germany she completed the series of drawings, The Peasant War. To produce the seven scenes she "combined aquatint and soft ground with the regular etching process". It is claimed by critics that Raped is one of the earliest pictures in Western art to depict a female victim of sexual violence sympathetically and from a woman's point of view. When the series was issued in 1908 it confirmed Kollwitz's stature as the most important graphic artists working in Europe.
In 1909 Simplicissimus, a progressive journal published in Munich and run by a co-operative of artists that included Ludwig Thoma, Thomas Heine, Olaf Gulbransson, Rudolf Wilke and Edward Thony, commissioned her to produce a series of five drawings entitled Portraits of Misery. This was as a response to criticisms from the leaders of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). For example, on the 28th December, 1908, Kölnische Zeitung reported: "The German worker simply does not look the way Simplicissimus portrays him. The worker, who strives courageously for the recognition of his personal worth, is insulted when he is portrayed as a drunkard or as a ragged street urchin living in an evil-smelling hovel."
Käthe Kollwitz based her charcoal drawings on the working-class people who visited her husband's surgery for treatment. "I met the women who came to my husband for help and so, incidentally, came to me, I was gripped by the full force of the proletarian's fate. Unsolved problems such as prostitution and unemployment grieved and tormented me, and contributed to my feeling that I must keep on with my studies of the lower classes. And portraying them again and again opened a safety-valve for me; it made life bearable." When they were finished she wrote in her journal: "A happy day yesterday. Finished drawing the fifth and last plate for Simplicissimus... I am so glad that I can work well and easily now... As a result of so much working on studies I have at last reached the point where I have a certain background of technique which enables me to express what I want without a model."
In 1910 Kollwitz completed Death, Woman, and Child. The author of Käthe Kollwitz (1976) has argued that Kollwitz identified with the mother figure in the picture: "The soft-ground etching is a masterpiece of line, space, and content. In its illustration of psychological tension through the drama of the body, Death and the Woman equals the artistry and emotional depth of Michelangelo's Rebellious Slave. A nude woman resembling the artist strains between a child who reaches for her and the skeleton of Death, which grasps her, pinning back her arms. The child touches her breasts, but cannot reach her tormented face; neither is the mother able to wrench free of Death to touch her child. The woman is bound, crucifix like, between Death and child, but in a dynamic pose: the line of her body curves powerfully from the right foot, through her taut thigh, to the near-circular arc of her breasts and her straining head, wrenched back in agony."
Kollwitz wrote in her journal: "I am gradually approaching the period in my life when work comes first. When both the boys went away for Easter, I hardly did anything but work. Worked, slept, ate and went for short walks. But above all I worked... No longer diverted by other emotions, I work the way a cow grazes."
During this period she produced a poster on the housing crisis in Berlin. Underneath the drawing of a young woman holding a baby in her arms, were the words: "600,000 Berliners live in apartments in which five or more persons are living. Some hundred thousand children live in tenement housing without playgrounds." Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had already described Kollwitz's work as the "art of the gutter" ordered the posters to be removed on the grounds that it incited class hatred.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28th June, 1914, triggered off the First World War. Käthe's two sons, Hans and Peter, immediately joined the German Army. She wrote in her journal on 30th September, 1914: "Nothing is real but the frightfulness of this state, which we almost grow used to. In such times it seems so stupid that the boys must go to war. The whole thing is so ghastly and insane. Occasionally there comes that foolish thought: how can they possibly take part in such madness? And at once the cold shower: they must, must!"
On 23rd October, 1914, Peter Kollwitz was killed at Dixmuide in Belgium on the Western Front. She wrote in her diary: "My Peter, I intend to try to be faithful.... What does that mean? To love my country in my own way as you loved it in your way. And to make this love work. To look at the young people and be faithful to them. Besides that I shall do my work, the same work, my child, which you were denied. I want to honor God in my work, too, which means I want to be honest, true, and sincere.... When I try to be like that, dear Peter, I ask you then to be around me, help me, show yourself to me. I know you are there, but I see you only vaguely, as if you were shrouded in mist. Stay with me.... my love is different from the one which cries and worries and yearns.... But I pray that I can feel you so close to me that I will be able to make your spirit."
Kollwitz found it difficult to use her art to deal with her grief. She wrote in her journal: "Stagnation in my work... When it comes back (the grief) I feel it stripping me physically of all the strength I need for work. Make a drawing: the mother letting her dead son slide into her arms. I might make a hundred such drawings and yet I do not get any closer to him. I am seeking him. As if I had to find him in the work... For work, one must be hard and thrust outside one-self what one has lived through. As soon as I begin to do that, I again feel myself a mother who will not give up her sorrow. Sometimes it all becomes so terribly difficult."
In 1916 she drew Anguish: The Widow. According to Martha Kearns: "A pregnant working-class woman, gaunt and harried, stands nearly full-length before us; her large-knuckled hands, cupped to hold and embrace, reach out limply in empty space. The woman is shocked and despondent from mourning; the woman is Kollwitz, who felt the widow's grief through the loss of her own son; the poor woman's desolation is her own."
On 13th June, 1916, Käthe had been married to Karl Kollwitz for twenty-five years. In her journal she wrote: "I have never been without your love, and because of it we are now so firmly linked after twenty-five years. Karl, my dear, thank you. I have so rarely told you in words what you have been and are to me. Today I want to do so, this once. I thank you for all you have given me out of your love and kindness. The tree of our marriage has grown slowly, somewhat crookedly, often with difficulty. But it has not perished. The slender seedling has become a tree after all, and it is healthy at the core. It bore two lovely, supremely beautiful fruits."
To commemorate Käthe's fiftieth birthday she was given a retrospective exhibition in Berlin. In May 1917 her sister, Lise Schmidt, wrote about the show in the socialist monthly, Monatsheft. Käthe wrote about the article in her journal: "She (Lise) makes a point which is for the most part ignored when people assert that my one subject is always the lot of the unfortunate. Sorrow isn't confined to social misery. All my work hides within it life itself, and it is with life that I contend through my work."
Käthe Kollwitz wanted to produce more positive art but found this impossible to do during the First World War. "How can one cherish joy when there is really nothing that gives joy? And yet the imperative is surely right. For joy is really equivalent to strength. It is possible to have joy within oneself and yet shoulder all the suffering. Or is it really impossible? If all the people who have been hurt by the war were to exclude joy from their lives, it would almost be as if they had died. Men without joy seem like corpses."
Kollwitz also wrote about her feelings towards the war. She admitted that in 1914 she had not argued against her sons joining the German Army "because there was the conviction that Germany was in the right and had the duty to defend herself." However, by 1917 she had changed her view of the war: "The feeling that we were betrayed then, at the beginning. And perhaps Peter would still be living had it not been for this terrible betrayal. Peter and millions, many millions of other boys, all betrayed."
The Armistice was signed on 11th November, 1918. Workers, soldiers and sailors responded to the news by going on strike and mutinying throughout Germany. Workers' Councils took control of factories and Soldiers' Councils undermined the authority of military officers. Käthe Kollwitz joined in this rebellion by helping the forming of a Workers' and Artist Council in Berlin. She also produced a charcoal drawing entitled, Revolution 1918.
The Social Democratic Party temporary government was less enthusiastic about the demands of the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils that included the socialization of key industries, the redistribution of land and a purge of the army, to be replaced by a people's militia. Instead the SPD government announced national elections.
The left in Germany were divided on this issue. On 1st January, 1919, at a convention of the Spartacus League, one of its leaders, Rosa Luxemburg, argued against an armed uprising. However, she was outvoted on this issue. Käthe Kollwitz agreed with Luxemburg and although she was sympathetic to their demands she was unwilling to support its call for violent revolution. As Bertram D. Wolfe has pointed out: "In vain did she (Luxemburg) try to convince them that to oppose both the Councils and the Constituent Assembly with their tiny forces was madness and a breaking of their democratic faith. They voted to try to take power in the streets, that is by armed uprising. Almost alone in her party, Rosa Luxemburg decided with a heavy heart to lend her energy and her name to their effort."
The Spartakist Rising began in Berlin. Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Social Democratic Party and Germany's new chancellor, called in the German Army and the Freikorps to bring an end to the rebellion. By 13th January, 1919 the rebellion had been crushed and most of its leaders were arrested. This included Luxemburg who was arrested with Karl Liebknecht and Wilhelm Pieck on 16th January. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were murdered while being taken to the prison.
On the morning of the funeral Kollwitz visited the Liebknecht home to offer sympathy to the family. At their request, she made drawings of him in his coffin. She noted that there were red flowers around his forehead, where he had been shot. She wrote in her journal: "I am trying the Liebknecht drawing as a lithograph... Lithography now seems to be the only technique I can still manage. It's hardly a technique at all, its so simple. In it only the essentials count." However, she changed her mind and it became a woodcut.
The Karl Liebknecht woodcut was attacked by the German Communist Party (KPD) because it had not been produced by a member of the party. Kollwitz wrote in her journal: "As an artist who moreover is a woman cannot be expected to unravel these crazily complicated relationships. As an artist I have the right to extract the emotional content out of everything, to let things work upon me and then give them outward form. And so I also have the right to portray the working class's farewell to Liebknecht, and even dedicate it to the workers, without following Liebknecht politically."
In 1919 Kollwitz became the first woman to be elected to full professorship at the Prussian Academy of Arts. As part of the position she was given a large, fully equipped studio with side rooms. In her new studio she began work on a series of lithographs that dealt with the impact of the First World War on women. Kollwitz later recorded: "I first began the war series as etchings. Came to nothing... I can no longer etch; I'm through with that for good. and in lithography there are the inadequacies of the transfer paper. Nowadays lithographic stones can only be got to the studio by begging and pleading, and cost a lot of money, and even on stones I don't manage to make it come out right. Why can't I do it any more? The prerequisites for artistic works have been there - for example in the war series. First of all the strong feeling - these things come from the heart - and secondly they rest on the basis of my previous works, that is, upon a fairly good foundation of technique."
Kollwitz's failure to support the Spartakist Rising made her realise that she was as revolutionary as she thought: "I have been through a revolution, and I am convinced that I am no revolutionist. My childhood dream of dying on the barricades will hardly be fulfilled, because I should hardly mount a barricade now that I know what they are like in reality. And so I know now what an illusion I lived in for so many years. I thought I was a revolutionary and was only an evolutionary. Yes, sometimes I do not know whether I am a socialist at all, whether I am not rather a democrat instead."
In 1920 she produced a self-portrait, Woman Lost in Thought. It reflected her mood at the time. She wrote: "I am disillusioned with all the hate that is in the world. I long for Socialism which allows people to live - the world has seen enough murder, lies, and corruption." This was followed with Death with Women in Lap, in which a tired woman is cradled in the lap and arms of Death. She wrote in her journal: "I am no longer expanding outward; I am contracting into myself. I mean that I am noticeably growing old."
Later that year Kollwitz joined Albert Einstein, George Grosz, Maxim Gorki, George Bernard Shaw, Henri Barbusse, Willi Münzenberg, Clara Zetkin, Upton Sinclair and Ernst Toller to form the International Workers Aid (IAH). She produced several posters for the organisation including Help Russia and Vienna is Dying! Save her Children!.
Käthe Kollwitz finished her series on the First World War in 1923. She told her friend, Erna Kruger: "Everything has gone so well with me concerning my work... If there is a section I have not re-worked, I do not know about it. A work of many years is finally coming to a close. They include an analysis of the piece of life that the years of life 1914-1918 encompass. These four years were very difficult to grasp... I have received a commission from the International Trade Union Congress to make a poster against war. That is a task that makes me happy. Some may say a thousand times, that this is not pure art, which has a purpose. But as long as I can work, I want to be effective with my art."
Kollwitz was also an active member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The organisation was established in 1915 and after the war campaigned for peace, disarmament and international co-operation. Other members included Jane Addams, Mary Sheepshanks, Mary McDowell, Florence Kelley, Alice Hamilton, Anna Howard Shaw, Belle La Follette, Fanny Garrison Villard, Emily Balch, Jeanette Rankin, Lillian Wald, Edith Abbott, Grace Abbott, Crystal Eastman, Carrie Chapman Catt, Sophonisba Breckinridge, Aletta Jacobs, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Emily Hobhouse, Chrystal Macmillan and Rosika Schwimmer.
Kollwitz produced lithographs of war-stricken mothers and children for the organisation. that were distributed as postcards. She also produced a poster, The Survivors, which showed those uprooted by war. Kollwitz wrote in her journal: "I am working with an international society opposed to war, I am filled with a warm sense of contentment. I know, of course, that I do not achieve pure art in the sense of Scmidt-Rottluff's for example. But still it is art. Everyone works the way he can. I am content that my art should have purposes outside itself. I would like to exert influence in these times when human beings are so perplexed and in need of help."
In 1924 she produced another anti-war poster, Never Again War. The author of Käthe Kollwitz (1976) has pointed out: "In this work her anger over the war dominates her sorrow. A zealous youth summons others to pacifism: his black eyebrows arch, his hair sweeps back dramatically as he stretches his right arm, first two fingers pointing in a visual exclamation point to the clarion call Never Again War!, writ large on either side of his arm."
In September 1925 Kollwitz was interviewed by the journalist, Agnes Smedley, who argued: "She (Kollwitz) is now fifty-eight years of age, and remains unimpressed by attentions, medals, books, or professorships. Her ceaseless physical activity would lead one to believe she is no more than forty. Her life is as simple as that of an ordinary working woman, and she still lives in the workers' section of North Berlin. Her gaze is direct and her voice startlingly strong, and she sees far beyond those who bring her superficial, external tributes or who try to use her for their own propaganda purposes. She is a silent person, but when she speaks it is with great directness, without trimmings to suit the prejudices of her hearers. Many people, before meeting her, expect to see a bitter woman. But they see, instead, a kind - very kind - woman to whom love - strong, love, however - is the rule of life."
In 1925 Kollwitz completed a series of woodcuts entitled The Proletariat. As with her other work, the woodcuts are made from the point of view of a working-class woman having to deal with living in poverty. The most disturbing image in the series is Hunger which shows terrified women and children crawling through thick darkness, as Death, represented as a skull, brandishes a lasso over their heads.
On the death of Peter Kollwitz during the First World War, Käthe attempted to create a memorial to her son. Every attempt she made ended in failure. Eventually she decided to make two sculptures, The Mother and The Father. She was given permission to place them in the cemetery where he was buried. In June, 1926, Käthe and Karl Kollwitz visited the cemetery in Dixmuide in Belgium, to decide where they were to be placed. She later recalled: "The cemetery is close to the highway.... The entrance is nothing but an opening in the hedge that surrounds the entire field. It was blocked by barbed wire which a friendly young man bent aside for us; then he left us alone. What an impression: cross upon cross.... on most of the graves there were low, yellow wooden crosses. A small metal plaque in the center gives the name and number. So we found our grave.... We cut three tiny roses from a flowering wild briar and placed them on the ground beside the cross. All that is left of him lies there in a row-grave. None of the mounds are separated; there are only the same little crosses placed quite close together.... and almost everywhere is the naked, yellow soil.... at least half the graves bear the inscription unknown German... We considered where my figures might be placed... What we both thought best was to have the figures just across from the entrance, along the hedge.... Then the kneeling figures would have the whole cemetery before them."
In 1927 Kollwitz was invited to visit the Soviet Union. Although she was a supporter of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and opposed communist revolution, she did accept that the country had introduced some important progressive reforms. Kollwitz wrote in Arbeiters International Zeitung: "This is not the place for us to discuss why I am not a Communist. But it is the place for me to state that, as far as I am concerned, what has happened in Russia during the last ten years seems to be an event which both in stature and significance is comparable only with that of the great French Revolution. An old world, sapped by four years of war and undermined by the work of revolutionaries, fell to pieces in November 1917. The broad outline of a new world was hammered together. In an essay written during the early days of the Soviet Republic, Maksim Gorki speaks of flying with one's soles turned upwards. I believe that I too can sense such flying in the gale inside Russia. For this flying of theirs, for the fervour of their beliefs, I have often envied the Communists."
The memorial to her son was not finished until 1931. It went on display at the Prussian Academy of Arts until being moved to Belgium: "For years I worked on them in utter silence, showed them to no one, scarcely even to Karl and Hans; and now I am opening the doors wide so that as many people as possible may see them. A big step which troubles and excites me; but it has also made me very happy because of the unanimous acclaim of my fellow artists." Otto Nagel described the memorial as the "artistic sensation of the day".
In the General Election that took place in September 1930, the Nazi Party increased its number of representatives in parliament from 14 to 107. Adolf Hitler was now the leader of the second largest party in Germany. The Social Democratic Party was the largest party in the Reichstag, but it did not have a majority over all the other parties, and the SPD leader, Hermann Muller, had to rely on the support of others to rule Germany. After the SPD refused to reduce unemployment benefits, Mueller was replaced as Chancellor by Heinrich Bruening. However, with his party only having 87 representatives out of 577 in the Reichstag, he also found it extremely difficult to gain agreement for his policies.
In May 1932, Paul von Hindenburg sacked Bruening and replaced him with Franz von Papen. The new chancellor was also a member of the Catholic Centre Party and, being more sympathetic to the Nazis, he removed the ban on the SA. The next few weeks saw open warfare on the streets between the Nazis and the Communists during which 86 people were killed.
In an attempt to gain support for his new government, in July 1932, Papen called another election. Hitler now had the support of the upper and middle classes and the NSDAP did well winning 230 seats, making it the largest party in the Reichstag. However the German Social Democrat Party (133) and the German Communist Party (89) still had the support of the urban working class and Hitler was deprived of an overall majority in parliament.
Adolf Hitler demanded that he should be made Chancellor but Paul von Hindenburg refused and instead gave the position to Major-General Kurt von Schleicher. Hitler was furious and began to abandon his strategy of disguising his extremist views. In one speech he called for the end of democracy a system which he described as being the "rule of stupidity, of mediocrity, of half-heartedness, of cowardice, of weakness, and of inadequacy."
The behaviour of the NSDAP became more violent. On one occasion 167 Nazis beat up 57 members of the German Communist Party in the Reichstag. They were then physically thrown out of the building. The stormtroopers also carried out terrible acts of violence against socialists and communists. In one incident in Silesia, a young member of the KPD had his eyes poked out with a billiard cue and was then stabbed to death in front of his mother. Four members of the SA were convicted of the rime. Many people were shocked when Hitler sent a letter of support for the four men and promised to do what he could to get them released.
Incidents such as these worried many Germans, and in the elections that took place in November 1932, the support for the Nazi Party fell. The German Communist Party made substantial gains in the election winning 100 seats. Hitler used this to create a sense of panic by claiming that German was on the verge of a Bolshevik Revolution and only the NSDAP could prevent this happening.
A group of prominent industrialists who feared such a revolution sent a petition to Paul von Hindenburg asking for Hitler to become Chancellor. Hindenberg reluctantly agreed to their request and at the age of forty-three, Hitler became the new Chancellor of Germany. Although Hitler had the support of certain sections of the German population he never gained an elected majority. The best the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) could do in a election was 37.3 per cent of the vote they gained in July 1932. When Hitler became chancellor in January 1933, the Nazis only had a third of the seats in the Reichstag.
Soon after Adolf Hitler became chancellor he announced new elections. Hermann Goering called a meeting of important industrialists where he told them that the 1933 General Election could be the last in Germany for a very long time. Goering added that the NSDAP would need a considerable amount of of money to ensure victory. Those present responded by donating 3 million Reichmarks. As Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary after the meeting: "Radio and press are at our disposal. Even money is not lacking this time."
Kollwitz helped organise a public manifesto calling for unity between the Social Democrat Party and the German Communist Party in order to combat to rise of fascism. Hitler responded by demanding that Kollwitz and Heinrich Mann, another organiser of the manifesto, should resign from the Prussian Academy of Arts. Kollwitz wrote to her friend, Emma Jeep: "Has the Academy affair reached your ears yet? That Heinrich Mann and I, because we signed the manifesto calling for unity of the parties of the left, must leave the Academy. It was all terribly unpleasant for the Academy directors. For fourteen years... I have worked together peacefully with these people. Now the Academy directors have had to ask me to resign. Otherwise the Nazis had threatened to break up the Academy. Naturally I complied. So did Heinrich Mann. Municipal Architect Wagner also resigned, in sympathy."
After losing her Academy studio, Kollwitz was unable to continue with her sculpture. Now aged 67, she decided to do a series of lithographs on her own impending death: "I thought that now that I am really old I might be able to handle this theme in a way that would plumb depths... But that is not the case... At the very point when death becomes visible behind everything, it disrupts the imaginative process... I start off indecisively, soon tire, need frequent pauses and must turn for counsel to my own earlier works."
Kollwitz continued to criticise Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Government. Along with her friend, Otto Nagel, she gave an interview with Izvestia. In July, 1936, she was arrested by the Gestapo. They wanted to know the names of other German artists who shared her anti-Nazi beliefs. They warned her that if she did not cooperate she would be sent to a concentration camp. She remained silent and because of her age, she was released.
In 1938 she finished the sculpture, Tower of Mothers. When this was shown at a local exhibition, it was seized by the Nazi government and described as being an example of "degenerate art". She wrote in her journal: "There is this curious silence surrounding the expulsion of my work from the Academy show.... Scarcely anyone had anything to say to me about it. I thought people would come, or at least write - but no. Such a silence around us."
The Nazi government also banned Karl Kollwitz from working as a doctor in Berlin. Eric Cohn, a wealthy art collector in the United States, purchased some of her sculptures that enabled the couple to buy enough food to survive. Cohen also offered to help Kollwitz to take refuge in the United States, but she refused as she did not want to be separated from her family.
Karl, who had an unsuccessful eye operation for cataracts, became increasing weak and by the outbreak of the Second World War he was completely bedridden. Käthe, who had to use a cane for walking, became his constant nurse and companion. He died on 19th July, 1940.
In January, 1942, Kollwitz produced her last lithographic, Seed for the Planting must not be Ground. She wrote in her journal, "I have finished my lithograph... This time the seed for the planting - sixteen-year-old boys - are all around the mother, looking out from under her coat and wanting to break loose. But the old mother who is holding them together says, No! You stay here!"
Käthe Kollwitz, whose grandson, Peter, was named after her son killed in the First World War, joined the German Army. He was killed during the advance on Stalingrad in October, 1942. His father, Hans Kollwitz, recalled: "She bore herself proudly, did not grieve openly, scarcely wept; she tried to give us strength to bear it. But the blow had been deep and damaging."
In 1943 Kollwitz produced her last self-portrait. Her biographer, Martha Kearns, has argued: "It is the last of eighty-four self-portraits, possibly the longest chronology of self-portraits by a woman in Western art, certainly a stunning psychological charting of a woman's life."
The terror-bombing of Berlin meant that in the summer of 1943, Kollwitz was forced to seek refuge in the home of a friend in Nordhausen. She was a prolific letter writer and in one letter to Georg Gretor, her adopted son, she wrote: "Oh, Georg, how good it all was... the fullness and richness of our lives overwhelms me again and again with feelings of gratitude. Let us tell you once more how we all have loved you."
On 23rd November, 1943, her apartment on 25 Weissenburger Strasse was destroyed by bombs and she lost family photographs, letters and mementos of her husband, sons and grandsons. She wrote: "It was my home for more than fifty years. Five persons whom I have loved so dearly have gone away from those rooms forever. Memories filled all the rooms... Only an idea remains, and that is fixed in the heart."
A week later her son's home was also destroyed during a bombing raid. Kollwitz wrote in her journal: "every war already carries within it the war which will answer it. Every war is answered by a new war, until everything, everything is smashed... That is why I am so wholeheartedly for a radical end to this madness, and why my only hope is in a world socialism... Pacifism simply is not a matter of calm looking on; it is work, hard work."
Käthe Kollwitz died, aged seventy-eight, at Moritzburg on 22nd April, 1945.