Death Giving Comfort

Kollwitz, Käthe

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Black crayon/tinted paper

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


Two figures form a weighty pyramidal unit. Neither figure declares its age or gender, but the foreground figure--the dying-- seems female. She is held and enveloped by a shaded figure representing death. One of death's hands holds the limp arm of the dying while the other wipes her closed eyes.


The "Farewell and Death" portfolio contains a series of meditations on the relationship between death and the dying. Käthe Kollwitz became increasingly drawn to this subject after the death of her son, Peter, in World War I. In the years between the two World Wars she thought much about the grief of bereavement and the senseless bitterness of war.

She reflected also on the varieties of response to death. In this crayon drawing, death itself seems to grieve even as it comforts. The dying person rests passive with closed eyes in the embrace of death, who tenderly wipes her face with a handkerchief. Many of the drawings in this series reveal a sense of anguish and bitterness in the contemplation of mortality. Even when death reveals itself as a comforter, the pervasive sense is of a restless sadness.

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.

Primary Source

The Diary and Letters of Käthe Kollwitz (Northwestern University Press, Evanston,1988). A preliminary sketch for "Farewell and Death" can be found in Käthe Kollwitz: Schmerz und Schuld (Gebr. Mann, Berlin, 1995).