Sunday, November 11, 2012

In the Act of Drawing

Käthe Kollwitz "Self Portrait Drawing"  1933  National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Although Käthe Kollwitz (1867 – 1945) created at least fifty self-portraits during her fruitful career, I could only find two of these pieces that show her in the act of creating. She usually depicted herself as a deeply sensitive, stoic observer of life rather than as a participant in its action. (In fact, she has been called "the woman who feels everything.") Of course, the very act of art-making itself is an action as well as an emotional response. Kollwitz's sense of onlooking may have been engendered by her life circumstances as well as her inborn personality. She was the daughter of a middle-class family, and her father was a Häuslebauer, similar to what we would call a developer/general contractor. As a child she began drawing the laborers she saw in her father's offices. When a young woman she married a pysician whose practice was mainly among the poor of Berlin and she was visually inspired by his patients and the milieu in which they lived.

"... But what I would like to emphasize once more is that compassion and commiseration were at first of very little importance in attracting me to the representation of proletarian life; what mattered was simply that I found it beautiful." -Käthe Kollwitz

Käthe Kollwitz "Self-Portrait, Drawn in Half-Profile to the Right, 1891-1892"
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

Kollwitz lived through enormous societal upheavals during her lifetime including two world wars and the concomitant societal changes. For instance, although her artistic gifts were recognized early in life, she was nonetheless denied entry to the Berlin Academy of Art because of her gender. Forty years later she became that institution's first female instructor. In 1920 she was the first woman elected a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, and this honor included a regular salary, a large studio and a full professorship.

Kollwitz outlived her husband, one of her two sons, and her only grandson. During her final years, she focused on producing bronze and stone sculpture embodying  similar aesthetic values as her two-dimensional work. Much of this later art was destroyed in a Berlin air raid in 1943.


Heddy said...

I love the top drawing. Those energetic strokes that connect the observed face and hand really puts it into a different realm - the range of mark is everything.

Anonymous said...

Kollwitz was unflinching. The power of her line is extraordinary, echoing the power of her mind. A great choice for 11/11. Mara Buck

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Oh wow, Mara, I forgot it is Veteran's Day today! But some part of me did not forget, obviously. Thank you for pointing this out!

Eliza Auth said...

I've always loved the muscularity of Kollwitz's drawings. There's nothing wispy and girlish about her work, but they have a weighty feminine feel to them.