Die Witwe I [The Widow I], plate IV from Sieben Holzschnitte zum Krieg [Seven Woodcuts on War]
65.7 cm x 47.3 cm (25 7/8 in. x 18 5/8 in.)
(Königsberg, Germany (now Kaliningrad, Russia), 1867 - 1945, Mortizburg, Germany)
Medium and Support:
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Transfer from the General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin, 1996
Beginning her study of art at age 12, Käthe Kollwitz settled early in her career on printmaking, whose graphic qualities could readily convey the harshness of her subjects: poverty, suffering, and war. Through radically simplified compositions and an austere palette of black and white, Kollwitz decried the atrocities of World War I that claimed the lives of millions of her countrymen, including that of her youngest son.
Five years after her son’s death, Kollwitz began experimenting with the woodcut medium, which provided an expressive vehicle for describing her grief. The cuts and slashes that define the figure in The Widow I, like its companions in the series Seven Woodcuts on War, convey not the violence of the battlefields but the trauma inflicted on those left behind.
The widow’s face is turned away, as if she were seeking privacy in which to mourn; her oversized hands anchor the composition. The style tends toward the expressionistic, providing as much a portrait of the artist’s own psychological state as that of the subject she depicts.