Farewell (Abschied)

Kollwitz, Käthe

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Charcoal

Annotated by:
Winkler, Mary
  • Date of entry: Dec-17-1996
  • Last revised: Nov-29-1999


In a pose reminiscent of both a Descent from the Cross, and a Pietá, a grieving woman reaches up to receive the body of a child. The drawing is a preparatory sketch for a series on death and bereavement--the "Farewell and Death" portfolio. The work is characterized by bold curving strokes that animate the scene, while conveying the heaviness of the dead child's body. As the body falls into the mother's arms, both mother and child seem to simultaneously float in some mysterious space.


Even before World War I, Kollwitz was drawn to the subject of human mortality and grief. This interest is one aspect of her consuming fascination with suffering--particularly the suffering of the urban proletariat. Much of her work has a political intent, but in her exploration of this bereaved mother's anguish, her concern touches on the universal.

The drawing, "Farewell," executed in 1910, is Number 1 in this portfolio. There is irony in the fact that the great grief portrayed has not yet come to Kollwitz. In her diary entry for April, 1910, she wrote: "Great piercing sorrows have not yet struck me." Yet much of her work seems to prophesy the great griefs of the 20th century--as well as her own. Her son, Peter, was killed in World War I, and her grandson (also named Peter) was killed in World War II. (Diary reference: The Diary and Letters of Käthe Kollwitz, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 1988)

Editor's Note: Louis Gamino has written an interesting chapter about the relationship between Kollwitz's life and her art, "A Study in Grief: The Life and Art of Kaethe Kollwitz" (in Grief and the Healing Arts: Creativity as Therapy, ed. Sandra L. Bertman, Baywood Publishing, Amityville, NY, 1999).


From the portfolio, "Farewell and Death," first published in facsimile, 1924; with an introduction by Gerhard Hauptmann.