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A Portrait of the Artist

Jonathan Watkins (Ikon Director) asks Frances Carey (former Deputy Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum) five questions about Käthe Kollwitz. 

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) Sturm (Riot). Plate 5, (1893-7) Etching with Stippling © The Trustees of the British Museum

Why do you like Käthe Kollwitz’s work?
For its strength of conviction combined with a bold and ever inventive approach to her means of execution. Her graphic art often has a monumental presence that is about much more than its actual size. It has a largeness of spirit and purpose.

Young people are responding very positively to Kollwitz’s work at Ikon. Why, do you think?
Because of the psychological intensity and powerful sense of social justice, combined with her empathy for women in particular.

What would Kollwitz think of Brexit?
The experience of the First World War made her into a fervent internationalist and pacifist. She had seen the dangers of nationalism at first hand and would have been a staunch advocate of European unity.

If Kollwitz was coming to dinner at your house, who else would you invite?
Someone to make her smile! Perhaps that could be achieved (if only in amazement!) by the member of the feminist art collective, the Guerrilla Girls, who uses Käthe Kollwitz’s name as her alias.

Was Kollwitz hopeful?
That depends on what part of her life is being referred to. Yes as a young woman, and later as her career blossomed – she always said that her thirties and forties were the best, when she travelled abroad to Paris and to Italy. The First World War and its aftermath did much to rob her of any joy, but hope was not extinguished, so long as she could keep on working, which gave her a sense of purpose. She derived satisfaction from the interest of younger artists, even when she could no longer exhibit under the Nazi regime, and in the evidence of her growing reputation in America. But after her husband Karl’s death in 1940, her grandson Peter’s in 1942 and the destruction of her home in Berlin, she wanted to give up the ghost. She may have relinquished her own will to live, but I do not think she ever lost sight of the hope for the future that lay in a younger generation.

Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz is on at Ikon until 26 November 2017. 

The exhibition is organised in partnership between Ikon and the British Museum and is generously supported by the Dorset Foundation in memory of Harry M Weinrebe.


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