Some artists present an idealized view of reality; others show the truth, as harsh as it is. The visit to the Käthe Kollwitz museum led me into a world of the stark reality of Germany in the early 20th century, as seen through her art.
Kollwitz’s subjects include the poor, the revolutionaries, the starving, the dead, mothers and children, and sometimes, even happiness. Her images are stark and monochromatic. However, they are anything but boring in the singular color; they overflow with compelling imagery, feeling, and strife.
For example, her poster, “Deutschlands Kinder hunger!” (Germany’s Children are Starving!), of children holding up bowls for food pulls the viewer into the desperate world of hungry children with huge, imploring eyes. The poster reminds viewers of the tough times Germans were facing following war and massive inflation as food was scarce.
Other subjects include mothers holding their children tight. Some seem to be sheltering their children from the unkind world of poverty; others seem to be refusing to let their children go.
The museum also includes many self-portraits of Kollwitz. She gazes out at the viewer with a hooded expression that doesn’t seem to change as the years go on. The only thing that does change is the slight differences associated with ages. She lost her beloved son, Peter, in World War I after she gave him permission to enlist as a minor. With this background knowledge, it helps one to understand her expression of a person hanging on, but with sadness in her heart.
Sculptures by Kollwitz are just as moving as her prints are. Often, a small sculpture is just of a person covering her face in anguish. It’s amazing how something small can depict such feeling and pain. Other sculptures show mothers protecting their children, or, in the case of Mother and Her Dead Son, a mother cradling her departed son, brooding over her loss.
With her subjects of the poor and the trials they faced in an explosive early 20th century Germany, Käthe Kollwitz used her art as both a way to record history and to call for helping the poor and suffering. The museum trip left me feeling pensive, trapped in the haunting faces of children, mothers, and revolutionaries.