Collection Spotlight

April, 2024

Käthe Kollwitz Exhibit at MoMA

March 31 through July 20, 2024

The Art Complex Museum is excited to share that six works on paper created by German artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) from its permanent collection will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City beginning March 31 through July 20, 2024. Käthe Kollwitz is an intensive retrospective that follows the development of the artist’s career from the 1890s until her death in 1945. The exhibit showcases approximately 130 rarely seen examples of her work (prints, drawings, and sculpture) from public and private collections in the United States and Europe. This major exhibition was organized by MoMA’s Curator of Drawings and Prints, Starr Figura.

During her lifetime, Käthe Kollwitz’ prints and sculptures brought her worldwide renown. Although she studied both painting and printmaking, Kollwitz’ strongest work included her drawings and prints, which she concentrated on more intently after 1890. Her unlikely renown came at a time when many artists were experimenting with abstraction and when most recognized artists were male.

Kollwitz focused on the hardships of women and the working class by creating dramatic, emotional imagery in black and white woodcuts and lithographs. Her representations of war, poverty, and death, as well as the human emotions that accompanied those themes, were unrivaled. Kollwitz’ life spanned historic upheavals in Germany and bared witness to social and political anguish, and the sufferings of two world wars. As a mother, Kollwitz was devastated by the loss of human life that included the deaths of her son in the first World War and her grandson in World War II. Women in mourning, protecting their children, and overcoming perils, were subjects she continually grappled with.

The works on loan from the Art Complex Museum collection include Kollwitz’ early print series, inspired by Gerhart Hauptmann’s (1862–1946) infamous play The Weavers (1892) performed at the theatre association Freie Bühne in Berlin. It was based on the 1844 uprising of the Silesian weavers. Kollwitz saw the performance in February 1893, and was so moved—according to her memoirs—she described it as “leaving a tremendous impression…that performance was a milestone in my work.”1 Soon afterwards, Kollwitz re-created six scenes from the play and adapted them to contemporary society and entitled the series, A Weavers’ Revolt.

In creating the sequence, Kollwitz shed light on the present-day conditions of workers. She modeled the narrative of her prints on the unfolding scenes of a classical drama,2  Need and Death, and Conspiracy, followed by March, Storming the Gate, and End. The first three works in the series were created as lithographs, and the remaining three were etchings, as Kollwitz struggled to find the right technique for expression.3 In the exhibit, this series is presented as an essential introduction to the social and political concerns that continually motivated Kollwitz’s art. The series was exhibited in Berlin in the late 1890s, bringing the artist much recognition. Many years later, museum co-founder, Carl Weyerhaeuser, purchased the series of prints from a New York Gallery.

During the process of creating the series, Kollwitz became convinced that the printed form was the most effective means of social criticism. As a result, she developed into one of history’s most outstanding graphic artists. It was important to Kollwitz that her work be moderately priced and widely accessible, which confirmed her decision to work in the print medium.

Also included in the exhibit are drawings and working proofs that highlight the artist’s process of obsessively reworking key themes and motifs through an extended series. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue at MoMA will explore the artist’s legacy and her contributions to an expanded narrative of modernism. It is the first major Kollwitz exhibition ever presented at a New York City museum, and the first major international loan exhibition of her work in the United States.

1 Fischer, Hannelore, Käthe Kollwitz: Survey of her Works, 1888-1942, Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köpg, pg.49.

2 Fischer, pg. 50.

3 Fischer, pg. 52.

A Weavers’ Revolt  Series

Poverty/Need (Not)
first plate of A Weavers’ Revolt (Ein Weberaufstand), 1897/98
lithograph, 05.03

Death (Tod)
second plate of A Weavers’ Revolt (Ein Weberaufstand), 1897/98
lithograph, 05.04

Conspiracy (Beratung)
third plate of A Weavers’ Revolt (Ein Weberaufstand), 1897/98
lithograph, 05.05

March of the Weavers (Weberzug)
fourth plate of A Weavers’ Revolt (Ein Weberaufstand), 1897/98
etching and emery, 05.06

Storming the Gate (Sturm)
fifth plate of A Weavers’ Revolt (Ein Weberaufstand), 1897/98
etching, 36.09

End (Ende)
sixth plate of A Weavers’ Revolt (Ein Weberaufstand), 1897/98
etching, aquatint, and emery, 05.07