Art as Expression: Kathe Kollwitz

By Herzog, Melanie | School Arts, February 1994 | Go to article overview

Art as Expression: Kathe Kollwitz

Herzog, Melanie, School Arts

Looking Carefully

Art can be a powerful way to communicate ideas, beliefs and feelings. Many artists use art to make eloquent statements about their political and social convictions by responding to events taking place around them. These artists often work with symbols, images and forms of representation that can be readily understood. In order to reach as wide an audience as possible, these artists often choose to work in media that can be easily reproduced, such as drawing and printmaking.

Kathe Kollwitz was a German artist who, through her prints, drawings and sculpture, was committed to expressing her empathy for the poor, her identification with working-class women, her admiration of their strength in facing ongoing hardships, and her outrage at the horrors of war. She made more than one hundred self-portraits over the course of her career, portraits that reveal her honest self-scrutiny, and the accumulated effects of her hardships and sorrows.

Early in her career, Kollwitz chose to work in graphics because she saw prints and drawings as the most direct and accessible means to convey her feelings and convictions. She later worked in sculpture as well. Kollwitz depicted the human figure in closely cropped, tightly arranged compositions that render her subjects larger than life. Her prints, drawings and sculpture convey her empathy for, and her identification with her subjects through her choice of images, dramatic compositions and her bold and emphatic style. In her drawings, etchings, lithographs and later woodcuts, Kollwitz developed a style of rendering the human figure in which she increasingly used the stark black-and-white contrast of her graphic media for its expressive effects.

Kollwitz' Karl Liebknecht Memorial is a dramatic black-and-white woodcut depicting the mourners of the fallen leader of the post-World-War-I Spartacist movement. The image is inscribed "From the Living to the Dead," a paraphrase of a revolutionary poem "From the Dead to the Living." As a pacifist, Kollwitz could not support the Spartacist call for armed rebellion against the postwar Social Democratic government of Germany, and so, was not sure if it was morally right for her to make the memorial. Though she did not agree with Liebknecht politically, she was horrified at the German military's murders of Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg, another Spartacist leader. At the request of Liebknecht's family, Kollwitz created numerous drawings of Liebknecht and the workers taking leave of their hero. The shock and anguish of the mourners became her focus in this work.

To accentuate the emotional intensity of her subject, Kollwitz chose to make this memorial as a woodcut, a medium that was new to her at this time. She emphasized the stark contrast inherent to woodcuts with boldly hewn lines that depict only the essential elements of this scene. Her spare, angular portrayal of the figures that crowd the composition gives visual form to the immediacy of the subjects' feeling. Her use of strong rhythmic verticals in rendering the bent figures of the mourners, and their gestures of sorrow suggest the weight of their loss. This is reinforced by her emphasis on the expressive faces and overly large, rough hands of these working people. As is characteristic of Kollwitz' work, a woman and her child are central among the gathered mourners. The focus of the figures' grief is the body of Liebknecht, rendered as a simplified horizontal form.

Kathe Kollwitz did not consider herself an Expressionist - the concerns of the German Expressionists were quite different from her own. Kollwitz' work emerged from her personal response to the social conditions and events of her time. It was consistently grounded in her awareness of her particular historical circumstances and her need to communicate her impressions of these circumstances. While German Expressionists also used their art to express feelings about general concerns, their images are often based on individual responses to personal experiences.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Art as Expression: Kathe Kollwitz


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.