Käthe Kollwitz is not only known as a printmaker, but has also made a name for herself as a sculptress. 19 sculptural works out of a total of 43 have been preserved, 15 of which have been copied in bronze.
Käthe Kollwitz was almost 37 years old when she turned her attention to sculpting and enrolled in an eight-week course at the Académie Julian in Paris in 1904. It is only from 1909/1910 that a more intensive, serious exploration of sculpting by the artist has been recorded. In a diary entry of New Year’s Eve 1912 she wrote: »I have almost exclusively worked on sculptural projects this year.« The comment which follows – »I’m not sure whether I will achieve anything« – highlights her self-doubts that she was not able to completely overcome in the decades that followed.
The laborious struggle for a form that was in line with the content she tried to convey manifests itself above all in the war memorial for her son Peter who fell in the Frist World War. Over the course of almost 17 years – sometimes »with more pull together«, sometimes buoyed by a feeling of »euphoria« – she wrestled with the sculpture in her endeavour to give expression to her personal loss and her mourning for Peter in this work. In 1932 the sculpture was finally installed as a memorial to all sons killed in the war at the war cemetery in Vladsloo, Flanders, where her son was also buried.
From the 1930s onward, the artist’s sculptural work moves more and more into the foreground again and becomes the dominant area of artistic activity for the rest of her life. In a letter to Gerhart Hauptmann from 1937 she wrote: »Sculptural work has taken centre stage«. In this period, Käthe Kollwitz produced mostly small-scale sculptures, the main reason being that they could be produced more cheaply and did not require a large working space. This was important because, pressured by the Nazis, she had been forced to leave the Prussian Academy of Art, where she had been admitted in 1919 as the first female artist, and thus also lost her academy studio.
Although the number of sculptural works created by Käthe Kollwitz is clearly outnumbered by her graphic art, she always emphasised the importance of these works as her main artistic objective. Her striving for an essential core in art led her to work on sculptures, as the focal point of her artistic activity had always been the human being. Detaching the human figure »from all the paraphernalia, reducing the multitude of connections and relations to essential, primary human emotions and putting these into the centre – all this pushes you towards sculpture,« as the artist’s sister, Lisbeth Stern, wrote in Bildende Kunst in 1917. At the same time, Käthe Kollwitz wrote in her diary with reference to »Peter’s Work« :
I may only execute this work if I really succeed in finding a form that matches the content (…). So what is left for me is the human form that I am familiar with and which needs to be entirely condensed.«
Käthe Kollwitz, Diaries, 6 November 1917
The Käthe Kollwitz Museum possesses all 15 sculptures by the artist that can be exhibited in a museum space – most of them in very rare, early casts.
Käthe Kollwitz, Woman with Child on her Lap, model c. 1911, finished 1936/1937?, bronze, Seeler 8 I.B.1.
Käthe Kollwitz, Mother with Child over her Shoulder, before 1917, bronze, Seeler 15 I.B.3.
Käthe Kollwitz, Pair of Lovers, 1913-1915, bronze, Seeler 13.II.B.9.
Käthe Kollwitz, Self-portrait, 1926-36, bronze, Seeler 26 I.B.3.
Käthe Kollwitz, Mother with two Children, 1932-1936, bronze, Seeler 29 I.B.6.
Käthe Kollwitz, Tomb Relief »Repose in the Peace of His Hands«, 1935/1936, bronze, Seeler 30 III.B.1.
Käthe Kollwitz, Soldiers’ Wives Waving Farewell, 2nd version, 1937/1938, bronze, Seeler 32 I.B.2.
Käthe Kollwitz, Group of Children, presumably 1936/1937, bronze, Seeler 33 I.B.8.
Käthe Kollwitz, Tower of Mothers, 1937/1938, bronze, Seeler 35 II.B.1.
Käthe Kollwitz, Pietà (Mother with dead Son), 1937-1939, bronze, Seeler 37 II.B.1.
Käthe Kollwitz, Lamentation, 1938-1941, bronze, Seeler 38 I.B.3.
Käthe Kollwitz, Farewell, 1940/1941, bronze, Seeler 39 I.B.1.
Käthe Kollwitz, Mother Protecting Her Child I, 1941, bronze, Seeler 41 I.B.1.
Käthe Kollwitz, Mother Protecting Her Child II, 1941, bronze, Seeler 42 I.B.1.
Käthe Kollwitz, Two Soldiers’ Wives, waiting, 1941-1943, bronze, Seeler 43 I.B.1.