Words by Lucy Mounfield
On Wednesday 13th September, Ikon unveil their new exhibition, Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz, which will be on show until the 26th November. Organised by Ikon and the British Museum, this exhibition is drawn from a collection of forty works from the British Museum – complemented by a small number of loans from a private owner and The Barber Institute of Fine Arts collection.
Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945) was a Prussian artist whose drawing, prints and sculptural work depicted and reflected a world ravaged by poverty, class struggles and war. Kollwitz lived through a tumultuous period in Germany’s history – through the Empire of Kaiser Wilhelm II, post-First World War struggles and the Weimar Republic, the growth of the Nazi party and the outbreak of the Second World War.
Kollwitz’s body of work has divided opinion: conservative collectors admire the craftsmanship of her printmaking, whilst from a social political point of view her oeuvre encapsulates the anti-war stance and class consciousness of the German Expressionists in the inter-war years. Kollwitz’s two great graphic series, The Weaver’s Revolt (1897) and The Peasants War (1908), document social injustice suffered by working men and women.
Concurrently Käthe Kollwitz’ subject matter has been looked at through the lens of her as a female artist; Kollwitz did make considerable gains in the art world. She studied art courses at women only schools at a time when women were ostracized from academies. In 1919, she became the first woman to be elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts, later becoming the first female professor there.
Critical analysis of women artists has often been problematic. Many exhibitions and much art historical critique has previously centered around Käthe Kollwitz as a ‘woman and artist’, whose empathetic and compassionate art was directly related to her gender and role as mother. The theme of motherhood has been explored regarding the death of her son, Peter, in 1914 – during the First World War, citing this as an influence for her Woman with Dead Child (1903) print. This image epitomizes the animalistic quality of her work, the etched jagged lines mirror the sharp jolts of grief. Many artists depicting war and poverty have often described the physical signs of struggle, but Kollwitz and her contemporaries – Otto Dix and George Grosz among them – revealed the psychological effects of a country in turmoil.
Ikon and the British Museum‘s Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz exhibition aims to look at her work through the ‘exploration of three themes: social and political protest, self-portraits and the role of an empathetic and suffering mother.’ It promises a re-examination of her as ‘someone who illuminates what it means to be an artist and to sustain a creative life’.
Furthermore, this exhibition will be the first time that many of the artworks have been seen together since Campbell Dodgson, Assistant Keeper – then Keeper – of the Department of Prints and Drawings (1893-1932) at the British Museum, bought these images in Germany before the First World War. Perhaps it will bring together the contrasting interpretations of Käthe Kollwitz’ work and present a fuller picture of her creative influences.
For more on Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz, visit www,ikon-gallery.org/event/kathe-kollwitz
For more on Käthe Kollowitz, visit www.kaethe-kollwitz.de/en/
For more on the British Museum, visit www.britishmuseum.org
For more from Ikon, visit www.ikon-gallery.org