Light and Dark: A Reflection of Artist Käthe Kollwitz

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

We hope you enjoy this print from our collection.

Käthe Kollwitz (German, 1867–1945)
Selbstbildnis am Tisch (Self-Portrait at Table), 1892, printed 1921
Etching and aquatint on paper
7 x 5 in.
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of Philip Buttermore, A4461,10.0301 

Renowned for her depictions of the German working classes, Käthe Kollwitz was also an accomplished portraitist of her own likeness as well as mothers and children. In this etching, she represented herself, aged twenty-five, seated at a table with various papers spread out before her (likely her drawings and prints). Kollwitz looks out at the viewer from under the atmospheric light of a single gas lamp, which adds a sense of mystery and introspection to the composition. A master in manipulating chiaroscuro (contrast between light and dark), Kollwitz obscured her body such that the shadows only reveal her head, hands, and dress, and she appears to emerge from the darkness of the room.

A printmaker and sculptor, Kollwitz was the first woman to be elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts (Berlin) in 1920, and she also was appointed Honorary Professor of Art at that institution. However, in 1933, Kollwitz was forced to resign as a result of signing an urgent appeal to unite socialist and communist leaders against the fascist Nazi regime. Throughout her career, she depicted emotionally-charged subjects derived from themes of war, death and injustice. Kollwitz also was influenced by the printmaking style of artists such as Max Klinger (1857–1920) and Edvard Munch (1863–1944).