- Museum number
Object: Not (Need)
Series: Ein Weberaufstand (A weavers' revolt)
A mother in despair leans over her bed-ridden child, as a father and child look on from left; 2nd state. 1893-1897
Crayon and pen lithograph with scraper and scraping needle, printed in black pm beige China paper, applied (chine collé) to copperplate paper
- Production date
Height: 155 millimetres
Width: 153 millimetres
- Curator's comments
This is the first plate from the series 'A Weavers' Revolt' from 1897. Kollwitz's attendance at the first performance of 'Die Weber' in February 1893 inspired her to create the series, which parallels but does not directly illustrate the play.
This is an early impression from the second state, printed before the Richter edition of 1920.
There is an earlier etched version of this composition from 1893-94 (Klipstein 23).
See Carey & Griffiths, 'The Print in Germany 1880-1933', BM exh cat, 1984, no.21; see also See Prelinger, 'Käthe Kollwitz', Washington National Gallery of Art exh cat, 1992, pp. 21-25.
Additional lit.: F. Carey and M. Egremont, 'Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz' (Birmingham, Ikon, 2017), cat. 8.
Text from Frances Carey and Antony Griffiths, 'The Print in Germany 1880-1933', BM 1984, nos. 21-24 [Discussion of the series (1951,0501.74, 1949,0411.3944, 1949,0411.3938 and 1979,1006.68)]
The published series consists of six plates, three etchings and three lithographs, of which only three are in the collection of the British Museum. They relate to the celebrated play, 'Die Weber', by Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946, winner of the Nobel prize for literature in 1912), which was published in 1892. Hauptmann had achieved immediate fame in 1889 with his first play 'Vor Sonnenaufgang' (Before Sunrise). It was staged at the Freie Bühne, a private theatre club founded by Otto Brahm earlier that year specifically to produce avant-garde plays without any need to worry about the box-office or the official censorship. Its first performance caused a celebrated fracas, and established Naturalism (that is the development of realism linked with Zola and Ibsen) in the German theatre. The staging of 'Die Weber' was even more controversial. The first version, written in a strong Silesian dialect, was not passed for performance by the censorship; it was held to instil class-hatred, and it was feared that the dialect was intended to make the play more comprehensible to contemporary weavers and thus encourage disaffection. A second version with much less dialect was also banned (a verdict against which Hauptmann later successfully appealed in the courts). As a result the first performance was held in the Freie Bühne on the afternoon of 23 February 1893, a performance which was attended by Käthe Kollwitz, who already knew Hauptmann from nine years earlier when she had met him during a visit to Berlin. She was, according to her own account, enormously impressed; it was a turning-point in her career, for she abandoned a projected series of prints to illustrate Zola's 'Germinal' and took up 'Ein Weberaufstand' instead. (See her reminiscences of 1941, 'Tagebuchblätter', pp. 37 and 41.)
The action of the play describes a historical event, the riots of the impoverished Silesian weavers in 1844. Hauptmann's grandfather had begun life as a weaver, and Hauptmann himself toured Silesia in 1891 to see conditions for himself and gather reminiscences of the 1844 rising. This had caused much concern at the time; Heine, for instance, had written a famous poem 'Die schlesischen Weber', and C.W. Hübner had exhibited a painting of the same title to raise funds for the weavers. Hauptmann's play had for its hero the weavers as a group, driven by despair to loot the house of their employer Dreissiger. The riot leads to the intervention of the military, and in the fighting the old man Hilse, who was opposed to the rising, is killed by a stray bullet. Kollwitz's six plates follow the sequence of the drama from destitution to the rising and subsequent fighting, but not one is an exact illustration of a scene from the play. Thus, for example, Act 2 is set in a weaver's cottage and shows the misery of their conditions, but at no point in the act does a child die, as is shown in the first two plates. The riot in 1949,0411.3944 takes place off the stage, and the death of old Hilse, which concludes the drama, does not seem to be the subject of the last plate, which shows three bodies. That Kollwitz entitled the series 'Ein Weberaufstand' rather than 'Die Weber' shows that she intended the series to parallel rather than follow the action of the play.
Kollwitz had intended to prefix the series with Heine's poem on the weavers and dedicate it to her father. But his death made her lose interest in exhibiting the set, and it was left to a friend of hers, Anna Plehn, to submit it to the annual salon held in the state exhibition hall in the Lehrterstrasse in 1898. According to her reminiscences of 1941 ('Tagebuchblätter', p. 41), Menzel voted that it be awarded a small gold medal, but Kaiser Wilhelm II vetoed this. But a document published by Peter Paret ('The Berlin Secession', Cambridge, Mass. 1980, p. 21) shows that the recommendation of the jury (on which Menzel served) was forwarded to the Kaiser by the minister of culture with a covering note which stated that "in view of the subject of the work, and of its naturalistic execution, entirely lacking in mitigating or conciliatory elements, I do not believe that I can recommend it for explicit recognition by the state". The Kaiser, therefore, was only following advice. The series was nevertheless a great critical success, and Kollwitz leapt straight into the first rank of artists. (On the history and background of 'Die Weber', see the introduction by M. Boulby to the edition of the play in the Harrap's German Classics series, London 1962.)
Text from Frances Carey and Antony Griffiths, 'The Print in Germany 1880-1933', BM 1984, no. 21 [Discussion of 1951,0501.74]
In her reminiscences of 1941 ('Tagebuchblätter', p. 41), Kollwitz recalled that the work on this series was difficult and protracted. "My technical ability in etching was still so slight, that my first attempts failed. It was for this reason that the first three plates of the series were lithographed and only the last three etchings succeeded technically." She saw the play performed in February 1893; it therefore took over four years to finish the six prints. In a letter of 1901 to Max Lehrs ('Briefe der Freundschaft', p. 23) she explained that her two children allowed her little time to work, and that her etching was largely self-taught; she had only had a few lessons from a local artist in Königsberg in the months before she went to Berlin.
This account is, however, rather surprising. Kollwitz's first etchings were made in Berlin in 1891- 3. They are some twenty in number and are of remarkable technical competence and artistic quality; certainly they give no impression of an artist struggling with the process. When she began work on the 'Weber' series in 1893, the medium chosen was etching, and early etched versions survive for all three compositions that were later published as lithographs. Examination of the etched version of 'Not' made in 1893-4 (Klipstein 23) shows that the print is perfectly successful, and of fully comparable quality to the three etched plates which were actually published in the series.
Whatever may be the explanation for the abandonment of work on the early versions of the plates of the series made in 1893-6, it is interesting to note how closely Kollwitz followed in her lithograph of 'Not' the character of an etching. The chalk lines on the child's bed and pillow are similar to those of a soft-ground etching, while the pen and ink lines which define the mass in the right foreground and much of the background are like those of an ordinary etching.
As noted before, the theme of the mother in despair over her sick or possibly dead child does not occur in Hauptmann's play. It derives rather from Munch's painting of the 'Sick Child', of which the first version was painted in 1885-6 (see 1949,0411.4792).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1984/5 Sept.-Jan., BM, 'The Print in Germany 1880-1933', no. 21
2017 13 Sep-26 Nov, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz
2017-2018 15 Dec-11 Mar, Young Gallery, Salisbury, Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz
2018 24 Mar-17 Jun, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz
2018 30 Jun-30 Sep, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz
2019-20, 2 September-12 January, London, BM, G90, Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Die Weber
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number