Käthe Kollwitz


Between 1888, when she began her art studies in Munich, and her death in 1945, Kollwitz made scores of self-portraits in which she interrogated her appearance and her state of mind in a direct and uncompromising way. Although the deep rings surrounding her eyes and the gray hair can be interpreted as signs of aging, the artist was only forty-four years old when she made this work. The likeness is rendered predominantly in black chalk, with touches of violet accentuating her cheekbones and forehead. Covered in dense hatching, the left side of the artist’s face dissolves into the darkness and merges with the rapidly sketched background.

Käthe Kollwitz
German, 1867–1945
Frontal Self-Portrait, 1911
Black chalk, heightened with violet and gray chalk, with stumping, on grayish-brown paper
Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, INV. NO. C 1917-50
© Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: Herbert Boswank


Jennifer Tonkovich, Eugene and Clare Thaw Curator of Drawings and Prints

Kollwitz’s weathered face aligns her with the struggling figures depicted in her print series, blurring the line between artist and subject. She executed this introspective sheet just after she began to engage intensively with sculpture and investigate more deeply three-dimensional structures. Her choice to depict herself with frank weariness suggests that her work chronicling the injustices and indignities of modern life took a physical toll. That she produced so many self-portraits over time allows for the somewhat eerie experience of being able to watch her age before our eyes. It also gives us a more vivid sense of her as a person, adding a rich biographical dimension to her works on paper.