Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tears of rage, tears of grief: Käthe Kollwitz and her circle

Käthe Kollwitz and Paula Modersohn-Becker are the two most famous female artists in early twentieth-century Germany, but they were by no means alone: there are plenty of interesting women working alongside them. Gabriele Münter, Jacoba van Heemskerck, and Marianne von Werefkin are just three of the more well-known names. As I've recently acquired two etchings by Kollwitz, I thought I'd post these alongside some work by other female artists of the period with less of a public profile.

Käthe Kollwitz was born Käthe Schmidt in Königsberg in 1867. She made her initial studies at an art school for women in Berlin, where her teacher was Karl Stauffer-Bern; she then went to the Women's Art School in Munich. From 1891 she lived and worked in Berlin, where her husband Karl was a doctor. Kollwitz is widely recognised as one of the most important etchers of her day. Her art expresses a profound sympathy with the lives of the poor, as in her early masterworks for the series The Revolt of the Weavers.

Käthe Kollwitz, Der Sturm (The Riot)
Etching for The Revolt of the Weavers, 1897
Ref: Klipstein 33

Two further themes in the work of Käthe Kollwitz are her loathing of war and the suffering it brings (she herself lost both of her sons to the great conflicts of the twentieth century), and her profound self-questioning, in a sequence of some 50 self-portraits. I can't think of any artist other than Rembrandt who has examined themselves with such unflinching honesty as Käthe Kollwitz. The sense of anguish in the self-portrait below is almost tangible.

Käthe Kollwitz,  Selbstbildnis, mit der Hand an der Stirn (Self-portrait, hand at the forehead)
Etching, 1910
Ref: Klistein 106 iib

Clara Siewert, who was born in 1862, was a close friend of Käthe Kollwitz, with whom she studied under Karl Stauffer-Bern. When Clara Siewert moved to Berlin in 1900 she lived in the same house as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Max Pechstein; she also good friends with Max Slevogt and Lovis Corinth. Clara Siewert was born in Budda, East Prussia, and died in Berlin.

Clara Siewert, Junges Mädchen (Young Girl)
Lithograph, 1908

Although (as with Kollwitz) much of her work was destroyed in WWII when her studio was hit by a bomb, the art of Clara Siewert is being rediscovered today, amid new interest in the work of women artists. There was a retrospective exhibition with catalogue in 2008: "Clara Siewert - zwischen Traum und Wirklichkeit" in the Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg. Like Käthe Kollwitz, Clara Siewert died in 1945, having lived through two cataclysmic world wars and endured the miseries of the Third Reich.

Sella Hasse, Kohlenlöschen im Schnee (Unloading Coal in the Snow)
Etching, 1913

The artist Sella Hasse was born in Bitterfeld in 1878, and died in Berlin in 1863. She studied under Walter Leistikow, Franz Skarbina, and Lovis Corinth. Sella Hasse was a socially-committed artist, who became a close friend of Käthe Kollwitz. Her work was declared "degenerate" by the Nazis. There is a collection of her paintings and watercolours in the Wismar Museum.

Erna Frank, Rue Berger in Paris
Lithograph, 1913

The etcher, lithographer and pastellist Erna Frank was born in Cologne in 1881. She studied under Paul Baum, and lived and worked in Berlin. In 1914 Erna Frank won the bronze medal at the international graphics exhibition the Bugra Leipzig. Erna Frank's etchings were published by Hermann Abell, Paul Cassirer, and J. B. Neumann, and in the Leipzig art revue Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst. The cityscape was her favored subject. Erna Frank died in 1931

Marie Gey-Heinze, Frühling (Spring)
Etching with aquatint, 1906

Despite the title of this blog post, I can't be sure that my next two subjects knew Käthe Kollwitz personally, but they would certainly have been aware of her art, as they were working at the same time, and contributing to the same art revues - so in the circle of influence, at least. The painter and printmaker Marie Caroline Gey-Heinze was born in Cologne in 1881. Born Marie Caroline Gey, she studied under Otto Fischer at the Dresden Academy. She married the Leipzig physician Paul Heinze and quickly made a reputation for herself under the name Marie Gey-Heinze with pastels and also with etchings such as Spring and Guinea-pigs (Meerschweinsen) published by Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst.

Marie Gey-Heinze, Meerschweinchen (Guinea-pigs)
Etching, 1908

Sadly, Marie Gey-Heinze's promising career was to come to an end when she shot herself at the age of 26, in her home in Oetzsch. There is a memorial Marie Gey Fountain in Dresden, designed by George Wrba.

Marie Stein, Porträtstudie (Portrait Study)
Etching, 1899

The etcher Marie Stein (Marie Stein-Ranke) was born in Oldenburg in 1873, into a Jewish family. Unable because she was a woman to study at the Düsseldorf Academy, she chose to study in the ateliers of Walter Petersen, Friedrich Fehr, and Paul Nauen. From 1896-1898 she lived and worked in Paris, before returning to Düsseldorf and becoming a successful society portraitist. Her closest artistic friend was the landscapist Georg Müller. In 1904 Marie Stein was awarded third prize in the annual competition of the revue Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst, judged by Klinger, Liebermann, Köpping, Tschudi, Lehrs, and Graul.

Marie Stein, Bildnis (Portrait)
Etching, 1905

In 1906 Marie Stein married the eminent Egyptologist Hermann Ranke. Their life together was happy but blighted by the untimely deaths of their three children, and persecution by the Nazis because of Marie Stein's Jewish background. The bulk of her artist activity appears to date from before her marriage. Marie Stein-Ranke died in Nussloch near Heidelberg in 1964.


Gerrie said...

Ah..., more wonderful information. I recently bought and am studying "die Malweiber" by Katja Behling (2013). On the first generation of educated and academically trained German painting women. Taught by the best German (male) artists of the time. Many were or became active in the graphic arts too, as you show us. Many were acquainted, lived in artist colonies and became teachers themselves. They also met in numerous exhibitions. I spend much time researching the (also) woodblock printmaking variety of these brave ladies and together with information like yours on the etching members, combined, very helpful in the understanding and their appreciation.

Neil said...

Thanks so much for this information, Gerrie. Katja Behling's book sounds very interesting.

Jane Librizzi said...

Sella Hasse's "Unloading Coal In The Snow" is just beautiful. There is so much in it, yet it does not look too busy. The dark snowflakes are utterly convincing.

Anonymous said...

Spectacular works of art... thanks for sharing!

Neil said...

I agree, Jane. She captures the sheer physicality of the labour, and the atmosphere/weather so well.

Neil said...

Thanks for commenting, Jourdan. I'm so pleased you enjoyed them.