Kathe Kollwitz
Ryno Swart Oil Painting Course
For the Love of Art, the newsletters

Frau mit totem Kind

There are no women artists; there are no men artists. There are only artists. The only difference is between good artists and bad artists. So what does it take to make, or to be a good artist?
In the words of John Ruskin: "To be good artist is to be a good person." It takes courage, patience, endurance, selflessness, passion, tenderness and strength to follow and to complete this path.
Among those who achieved this, there is a handful of men and a handful of women. The greatest among these last is, I believe, the german artist Kathe Kollwitz.
Kollwitz lived through the period between the two great wars of Europe. As the wife of a doctor who practised among the poor, she saw much hardship.
Although also an important figure in the resistance politics within Germany, her concern found its expression in her manificent lithographs, etchings and sculpture.
Unusually, as far as can be determined, she did not produce a single work in colour as long as she lived. This somber quality is perfectly suited to her work which explores the subjects of war, poverty, and of the death-torn bonds between mother and son.
Her mastery of anatomy, both structural and superficial, has been matched only by Michelangelo and Rodin, and her chiaroscuro only by Rembrandt, but for her dark passion she stands alone. (To compare her with Goya would be to compare light with dark, sympathy with horror, love with cruelty)
This work, "Frau mit totem Kind" (woman with dead child) explores a recurring theme in her life, death separating mother from child, sometimes by the death of the child, sometimes by the death of the mother. For me the link to Michelangelo's Pieta is immediate. While the two artists speak a very different language, they both express life and death through the most exquisite nuances of anatomy. As so often happens, the spirit is manifested by the body.
For those who will see, nature so often proves to us the intimate link between art and life, as if the artist does not so much reflect reality, ast create it. In the cruelest parallel to art, fate saw fit to complete the depth of suffering that she explored so lovingly.
In 1914, in the bloody fields of Flanders, eleven years after she had etched "Frau mit totem Kind", Kathe Kollwitz lost her son, Peter.