Memorial Sheet of Karl Liebknecht (Gedenkblatt für Karl Liebknecht)
Käthe Kollwitz ( German, 1867 - 1945 )
The German expressionist artist Käthe Kollwitz intended to become a painter, but devoted her career to drawing, printmaking, and sculpture. While other artists of her generation experimented with abstraction, Kollwitz never swayed from studying the human form. Her intensely expressive figures communicate strong emotions through facial expressions and gestures.
Kollwitz believed that art should serve a noble and ulterior purpose—it should speak to the people. She preferred etchings and lithographs so that her work could be reproduced and distributed widely and cheaply. She continually repeated favored themes and forms as the basis of her social commentary: images of mother and child, her own self-portrait, and images of death, endurance, war, and suffering.
This woodcut depicts workers gathered to mourn their dead leader, Karl LIebknecht, a leftist revolutionary who was assassinated in 1919 during the turbulent years of Germany's Weimar Republic. The facial expressions and general composition recall traditional images of the Lamentation of Christ, an allusion further emphasized by the halo of bright marks around Liebknecht's head.
Memorial Sheet to Karl Liebknecht exemplifies Kollwitz's two passions: printmaking and social engagement. The death of her son in World War I and the atrocities associated with the political strife of the Weimar Republic moved Kollwitz to seek new artistic and technical means. Inspired by the expressionist woodcuts of Ernst Barlach, she was convinced that the woodcut technique would communicate her message most clearly. This print was her first experiment in the medium, and its simplicity and stark contrasts emphasize Kollwitz's essential emotional eloquence.
Melinda Klayman, "Memorial Sheet of Karl Liebknecht", in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection,_ _ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 122.