Käthe Schmidt Kollwitz
Losbruch (Uprising, also known as Outbreak), 1902–03
Etching on copperplate paper Plate 5 from the cycle Bauernkrieg (Peasant War) State XII published by von der Becke, 1931
20 3/8 x 23 3/8 inches
Most women born in the second half of the 19th century were not encouraged to become artists, but such was not the case for Käthe Kollwitz, the fifth child of Karl Schmidt, a mason with radical social democratic leanings, and his wife Katherina, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor who founded an independent congregation after being expelled from the state-sanctioned church. Perhaps it was this freethinking upbringing that resulted in Kollwitz’s deeply rooted social idealism which was evident throughout her artistic career. Always encouraged at home, her formal art education began at the age of 12 in her hometown of Königsberg, Eastern Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). At the age of 17 she enrolled at one of the few art schools in Berlin that permitted women. There she discovered the etchings of Max Klinger, whose technique and social concerns greatly influenced her. By 1888, while studying in Munich, she decided her true calling was drawing rather than painting. Her subjects at that time and for the rest of her career would be the working class and peasants she saw every day.
Peasant War was Kollwitz’s second major cycle of prints, which occupied her from 1902 to 1908. She had been appointed to teach graphics at the Berlin School for Women due to the success of her previous print cycle, known as The Weaver’s Revolt. This next series was commissioned by the Association of Historical Art. The title refers to the violent uprising of peasants against their feudal lords and the church which took place in the early years of the Reformation in Southern Germany (1522–25). In a letter to a friend she noted that she had read The General History of the Great Peasant’s War written in 1841– 42 by Wilhelm Zimmermann and had become fascinated by the legendary figure known as Black Anna who was said to have incited the insurrection. Kollwitz noted that she identified with this character who appears in this print urging the peasants forward, arms raised over her head.
The Peasant War series utilized of etching, aquatint, and soft-ground techniques and are among Kollwitz’ highest achievements as an etcher. Outbreak specifically reveals the experimental nature of the artist evident in the unusual tones and textures and the softer, grainier lines she attained in this image. This print is a later state but done within her lifetime, and reflects the stunning skills of one of the 20th century’s greatest printmakers.
In anticipation of Auburn’s celebration of 125 Years of Auburn Women, curators will campaign to acquire work by women artists, thus adding to the 54 females currently represented in the collection. Learn more.