Collections and Critiques

Kaethe Kollwitz Holds Exhibition of Unusual Prints on Subjects from Dance to Death

HERR Hitler kicked Kaethe Kollwitz out of Germany, and very sensible he was to do so. Men who know the true fruits of war he cannot train to be warriors. Men who understand the inevitable evils of capitalism he cannot persuade to support his program for the rehabilitation of German capitalists. Kollwitz' art is nothing if not truthful about these horrors. Quick flesh but thinly veils the bony deathsheads of her starving men and women. Death, indeed, dominates the work of Kollwitz now being exhibited at the Germanic Museum. Not Death as in the silent senseless repose of the dead, but Death hanging over slowly departing life; not Death which comes suddenly, mercifully to the well-born for whom it is the apoplectic end of surfeit, but Death which racks life from the poor with retching hunger, foul disease, the constant ache of physical exhaustion. Death is here no surcease but a prolonged torture. The artist conveys the sense of this by unnaturally hollowed and skull-like faces, by hands which are bony in spite of their muscularity; the quality and effect of this she draws into the bent bodies, the downcast eyes, the melancholy despair and hopeless resignation of her subjects. With compassion she makes ink and paper plead for her sufferers; when he looks at the prints the jaunty, smart, well clad and fed spectator feels the same compassion more sharply than if he saw the original subjects (though not more sharply than he ought); that is art.

This work cannot be called propaganda. The inferences which any sane person draws from it are not that socialism is necessary, or Christian charity, or any particular panacea. The prints simply awake compassion for sufferers. If the sufferers are all the victims of capitalism and capitalistic war, that is but a reflection of the world as it exists today.

Occasionally Kaethe Kollwitz' technique of exaggerating significant details to grotesqueness for emphasis makes the work difficulty intelligible. At her best, as in the lithograph "Brot" she achieves striking beauty with remarkable simplicity and economy of line. Most powerful of the exhibits are the series of fascinating self-portraits, versions of "The Widow II," the conventional "Dance Around the Guillotine," and the symbolic "Hunger's Whip." Dr. Kuhn is to be congratulated for bringing such an exhibit to the Germanic Museum.