Käthe Kollwitz (née Käthe Schmidt) was born in 1867 in Königsberg, East Prussia (present day Kaliningrad, Russia) into a liberal, upper middle-class family. Encouraged by her father, she studied painting in Berlin (1884–85) and in Munich (1888– 89). In her early career, Kollwitz was influenced by the German Symbolist artist and writer Max Klinger and later by the sculptor and printmaker Ernst Barlach. She focused mainly on the graphic arts, creating etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, and later also sculpture. Following her marriage to Karl Kollwitz, a medical doctor, she moved with him in 1891 to Prenzlauer Berg, one of Berlin’s working class districts. Already drawn to the plight of the working classes, Kollwitz was motivated by her daily interactions with the people from this depressed neighborhood to give them a voice through her art.
After the popular successes of her print series, A Weavers’ Uprising (1894–98) and Peasant War (1902–08), she embraced WWI with some measure of hope for change; however, by the war’s end she was left disillusioned and grief stricken at the death of her youngest son, Peter, on the battlefield in Belgium. Now an avowed pacifist, she dedicated her art, which included topical posters and pamphlets, to humanitarian socialist issues. In 1919 she became the first woman elected and appointed professor to the Prussian Arts Academy. She subsequently co-founded and became director of the Women’s Art Association, an organization dedicated to exhibiting women’s art, but with the rise of the Nazi party she was forced to resign her post at the Academy. After moving to Moritzburg near Dresden, to escape the bombing in Berlin, Kollwitz died in 1945, only a few weeks before the end of the war.
Image: Käthe Kollwitz with her grandchildren in Lichtenrade in 1926