I first came across Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945) when I spent the summer in Berlin last year (see my Berlin blog) – her emotional portraits of death, lost children and protests against war and hunger are a reminder of the struggles and pain in Germany in the early 20th Century. Her sculptures can be found as war memorials in Berlin and in the WWI cemetery in Belgium where her son Peter lost his life, and it is the work that has been produced as a response to her protection, or inability to protect her sons that are most moving.
The gallery in Cologne holds numerous examples of her work including drawings, prints and sculptures. The sets of work that stood out for me were the wood cut series War, a series entitled Death and the sculptures of mothers protecting their children.
In Death Kollwitz depicts the numerous ways that death can come to you. In some images death comes as a welcome relief, in others he comes to drag his victim away, while others are left along on the street waiting for death to come. You certainly don’t get too many uplifting images in a Kathe Kollwitz exhibition, but what you do get is always moving, poignant and emotional.
While Cologne was heavily bombed during WWII there are less physical scars today than in Berlin and less reminders of the past, but Kollwitz’s work takes you back to a period of intense pain, poverty and fear as WWI, depression and then WWII left people in despair, families torn apart and children lost. It must have been exhausting for her to create so many emotionally charged images; to repeatedly open wounds and lay bare the pain of a generation, but today it stands as a reminder of the world Kathe Kollwitz was living in, in all its uncertainty.
Kathe Kollwitz Museum, Neumarkt 18-24, Cologne, Germany
Open Tues-Sun, 4 Euro