Hard Times Captured in Art

Hardships are life, and artists have always reflected the hurt and hard times of others through their work. Käthe Kollwitz captured some of the most devastating expressions of sorrow.

Woman with dead child. 1903 etching by Käthe Kollwitz.

During this time of transition, I am reflecting on a woman artist named Käthe Kollwitz and her etching from 1903.

She produced a large amount of work reflecting on the hardship of the working class. Historical revolts of the peasants and the poorer working class inspired her to create some of the most despairing images of people's unsuccessful attempts to change their lives.

In an era where emotional works of art were using color, Käthe Kollwitz produced black and white prints reflecting tragedy and deep sorrow. Works such as Mourning Parents, Woman with Dead Child. Her methods of lithography, linocuts, and printmaking were perfect for the depressing genre of her work.

The printmaking method is very physical.

A lot of work goes into producing an etching and seeing it in print.

First, the artist will take a zinc, copper, or metal plate, cut it and prepare the surface. Using a file, they would carefully file the edges of the plate.

I used to make a deeper v edge that would produce a nice-looking imprint when pressed into the paper.

Second, the application of a waxy acid-resistant surface is added to the top of the plate. The artist could prepare several of these prepared plates at one time if needed. Later, a stylus was used to draw the landscape/portrait/subject on top of the plate's waxy substance.

Käthe Kollwitz would work and rework the plate until she was satisfied with what was reflected at her. Drawing, she pondered on the subject matter. I imagine her emoting what the subjects were feeling and getting more frustrated as she laid the lines in the medium. She would take that finished plate and finally place it into acid.

Watching closely, the acid bath would begin the bite into the exposed metal lines. She would use a feather or some sort of a lightweight object able to withstand acid to remove bubbles that would develop around the lines to ensure a perfect “bite.”

Relook at the figure of the child, which is resting in the woman’s arms above; There are some deep and harsh lines underneath the dead child’s head. It emphasizes the way the mother is exasperatingly holding the corpse. It looks as though she will never let go. What a state of utter pain.

The March of the Weavers in Berlin — Käthe Kollwitz — 1897

The March of the Weavers was a play about a failed revolt in Germany based on a historical event where workers marched to their employer’s home because of their dissatisfaction. Kollwitz had instead modernized the series by depicting the weavers in modern clothes. The series was lithographed, and three etchings were created. It was a very popular series for the artist and brought her into the limelight.

Käthe Kollwitz. Schlachtfeld (Battlefield).Title (series) Bauernkrieg (Peasants’ War).

Another haunting image is the mother searching for her child on the battlefield after a failed revolt in the Peasants’ War. The dark shadowy figure is searching through the corpses with a light illuminating the face. In this image, it looks as though a lot of texture would have been used to create the atmosphere—the extreme darks and greys. The shadowy outstretched hand of the mother looks tired and used.

Käthe Kollwitz suffered from anxiety and fell into a deep depression in her life. She produced a lot of work that highlighted those human emotions in other people. Through these ominous images, we are all reminded that people have struggled throughout history.

Contemplative Creative

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