Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation

By Helen M. Cooper; Adrienne Auslander Munich et al. | Go to book overview

Sara Friedrichsmeyer


"Seeds for the Sowing":
The Diary of Käthe Kollwitz

In the decades since Käthe Kollwitz ( 1867- 1945) began exhibiting her graphic works and sculptures, critical response to her art has varied greatly, usually depending on the favor accorded the socially committed work of a woman artist. 1 One constant in many of the discussions, however, has been the perception of Kollwitz as a "revolutionary" artist. Even contemporary critics who deal with her oeuvre frequently describe her as "revolutionary," referring not only to the implicit call throughout her work for radical social change, but linking her to a revolutionary political credo as well. 2 The largely unpublished diary that Kollwitz kept for almost thirty-five years is the most important source for assessing her political position. 3 Begun in 1908, continuing through the years of the First World War and the Weimar Republic, and ending only in 1943 shortly before she was evacuated from Berlin, her diary not only puts into clear perspective the revolutionary fervor that did indeed inspire her well-known early works, but also demonstrates what should be seen as her evolution from political revolutionary to pacifist. Although it documents her revolutionary vision for a more just society, it challenges any final assessment of Kollwitz as an artist doing her part to achieve that goal through an art calling for the forceful overthrow of existing political and social systems.

Because the diary's themes are all interwoven and, in fact, interdependent, separating them for discussion runs the risk of placing undue emphasis on a particular thematic concern. Nevertheless, the following discussion concentrates on Kollwitz's development to a pacifist position, with the proviso that it is only one of several major themes in her writing and intricately related to every other.

Although the artist's early graphic works dealt with revolutionary themes, they were inspired not by contemporary but by historical events. The Weavers' Rebellion, for example, exhibited in 1898 and the series with which the public continued for years to associate her name, depicted the 1844 revolt of the Silesian weavers. ThePeasant War

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