The »Death« Series, 1934-1937

As early as 1922, Käthe Kollwitz made a first mention in her diary about plans to return to the theme of death in a graphic cycle. She had already explored this motif in her portfolio »Farewell and Death«.

Five years later in February 1927 – a period when the artist was above all occupied with her sculptural pièce de resistance »Mourning Parents« and keenly felt the burden of old age – she made this diary entry:

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…I must […] pull myself together and work on graphic art again.
I must make some sheets on the theme of death. Must, must, must!
« 
Käthe Kollwitz, Diaries, February 1927

It was only between 1934 and 1937 that she eventually realised this project which resulted in eight lithographs. The death in 1934 of her brother-in-law Georg Stern, who was among those closest to her, may have triggered this process.

The sheets do not follow a continuous narrative, but present variations on the theme. They show people in different stages of their lives as they are confronted with death. As is so often the case in her work, women and children are at the centre of the compositions. Death comes to people in different guises – as an act of violence, suddenly and unexpectedly, in loneliness, but also as a yearned-for liberator.

works

Käthe Kollwitz, Woman entrusts herself to Death, sheet 1 of the series »Death«, 1934, crayon lithograph, Kn 264 b, Cologne Kollwitz Collection © Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln

Käthe Kollwitz, Woman entrusts herself to Death, sheet 1 of the series »Death«, 1934, crayon lithograph, Kn 264 b

Käthe Kollwitz, Young Girl in the Lap of Death, sheet 2 of the series »Death«, 1934, crayon lithograph, Kn 265 b, Cologne Kollwitz Collection © Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln

Käthe Kollwitz, Young Girl in the Lap of Death, sheet 2 of the series »Death«, 1934, crayon lithograph, Kn 265 b

Käthe Kollwitz, Death seizes the Children, sheet 3 of the series »Death«, 1934, crayon lithograph, Kn 266 II b, Cologne Kollwitz Collection © Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln

Käthe Kollwitz, Death seizes the Children, sheet 3 of the series »Death«, 1934, crayon lithograph, Kn 266 II b

Käthe Kollwitz, Death seizes a Woman, sheet 4 of the series »Death«, 1934, crayon lithograph, Kn 267 a, Cologne Kollwitz Collection © Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln

Käthe Kollwitz, Death seizes a Woman, sheet 4 of the series »Death«, 1934, crayon lithograph, Kn 267 a

Käthe Kollwitz, Death on the Road, sheet 5 of the series »Death«, 1937, crayon lithograph, Kn 270 II b, Cologne Kollwitz Collection © Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln

Käthe Kollwitz, Death on the Road, sheet 5 of the series »Death«, 1937, crayon lithograph, Kn 270 II b

Käthe Kollwitz, Death is recognized as Friend, sheet 6 of the series »Death«, 1937, crayon lithograph, Kn 271 b, Cologne Kollwitz Collection © Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln

Käthe Kollwitz, Death is recognized as Friend, sheet 6 of the series »Death«, 1937, crayon lithograph, Kn 271 b

Käthe Kollwitz, Death in the Water, sheet 7 of the series »Death«, 1934, crayon lithograph, Kn 268 b, Cologne Kollwitz Collection © Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln

Käthe Kollwitz, Death in the Water, sheet 7 of the series »Death«, 1934, crayon lithograph, Kn 268 b

Käthe Kollwitz, Call of Death, sheet 8 of the series »Death«, 1937, crayon lithograph, Kn 269 b, Cologne Kollwitz Collection © Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln

Käthe Kollwitz, Call of Death, sheet 8 of the series »Death«, 1937, crayon lithograph, Kn 269 b

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