- Museum number
- Object: Gedenkblatt für Karl Liebnecht (Memorial sheet for Karl Liebknecht)
Mourners gather around dead body laid out on bier; 4th state, early August - Christmas 1920. 1920
Woodcut, printed in black on Japan paper
- Production date
Height: 356 millimetres
Width: 498 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- This is a proof for the 1920 edition.
Text from Frances Carey & Antony Griffiths, 'The Print in Germany 1880-1933', BM 1984, no. 43
The print bears the legend: "Die Lebenden dem Toten. Erinnerung an den 15 Januar 1919" ("The living to the dead. Remembrance of 15 January 1919"). The first words invert the title ('Die Toten an die Lebenden') of a famous poem by Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810-76) about the victims of the March Revolution of 1848. In Kollwitz's 'Erinnerungen' she recalled the "indelible impression" made on her as a child by her father's reading the poem to the family ('Tagebuchblätter', p.25).
Karl Liebknecht, the leader of the German Spartacists (from January 1919 the German Communist party) was murdered on 15 January 1919, along with his fellow leader Rosa Luxemburg, by members of the Freikorps raised at the request of the Social Democrat Government among soldiers returning from the Western Front in order to prevent the possibility of a Communist putsch. The murders caused a great stir of revulsion at the time, and are still among the best-remembered incidents in modern German history. On 25 January Kollwitz was invited by members of Liebknecht's family to draw the corpse ('Ich sah die Welt', p.192), and six of these drawings survive (Nagel 766-71).
The idea of making a print of the subject followed soon after, but caused her considerable problems. For the composition, which recalls the type of the lamentation over the dead Christ, she had recourse to an earlier lithograph of 1914 (Klipstein 127) which showed mourners at the bier of Ludwig Frank, the Social Democrat leader of the Reichstag, who was killed at the Front on 3 September 1914. The same composition was refined through 1919 in a series of preliminary drawings (Nagel 773-90), which were then turned into an etching (Klipstein 137) and a lithograph (Klipstein 138). Neither, however, was successful as a print, and neither was published.
Kollwitz's journal of these years records her increasing doubts and uncertainties about the proper technique of her printmaking. She found that she could no longer make etchings, and was increasingly dissatisfied with the specious ease and feeble effect of transfer lithography. An entry of 8 April 1920 shows that she was beginning to think of making woodcuts, and after seeing some woodcuts of Barlach exhibited in the Secession on 25 June she decided to take the plunge. On 11 July she recorded: "My first woodcut has succeeded to some extent. Now I am working with renewed hope on the preliminary work for the Liebknecht woodcut".
The print must have been finished within the year, for it was published in two editions: a numbered edition of a hundred signed by the printer Voigt, and an unlimited edition sold at a very low price at the 1920 Arbeiter-Kunstausstellung in Berlin. In a journal entry of October 1920 she discussed the significance and legitimacy of the print: "I have as an artist the right to extract from everything its content of feeling, to let it take effect on me and to express this outwardly. Thus I also have the right to portray the workers taking their farewell from Liebknecht, and even to dedicate it to them, without thereby being a follower of Liebknecht in a political sense. Or not?"
Additional lit.: F. Carey and M. Egremont, 'Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz' (Birmingham, Ikon, 2017), no. 36.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1984-1985 Sep-Jan., BM, 'The Print in Germany 1880-1933', cat.43
1992 Mar-May, Manchester Art Gallery, 'The Expressionist Face...'
1995 Jan-Mar, Lancaster, Peter Scott Gallery, Käthe Kollwitz
2004-2005 Dec-Feb, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery:, 'Faces in the Crowd:...'
2005 Mar-Jul, Turin, Castello di Rivoli, 'Faces in the Crowd:...'
2014-2015 Sept.- Jan: British Museum, 'Germany: Memories of a Nation'
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
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number