In Truth, Beauty: The Art of Kathe Koll­witz

Kathe Koll­witz would have turned 100 this year. But her de­spair­ing art is shock­ingly res­o­nant in 2017.

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Al­lan M. Jalon

When a Jewish busi­ness­man in Cologne, Ger­many, named Franz Levy died in 1937, his fam­ily com­mis­sioned the renowned Ger­man artist Kathe Koll­witz to de­sign his grave­stone. Koll­witz, who was not Jewish, sculpted pairs of hands reach­ing in sub­tle re­lief from op­po­site sides of the stone sur­face, fin­gers grip­ping wrists, hold­ing on. It arouses a feel­ing of des­per­ate but de­fi­ant con­nec­tion across chasms of hu­man loss.

Koll­witz deftly re­spected a Jewish rule against show­ing hu­man faces on grave­stones, hon­or­ing one man who had died of nat­u­ral causes. But she had a gift for artis­tic prophecy. Levy’s fam­ily fled Ger­many in 1938, and one can’t look at those hands reach­ing over his grave to­day and not see a Cas­san­dra’s la­ment for the count­less fam­i­lies who would be torn apart by the vi­o­lence that soon swept the globe.

Koll­witz turned 70 the year Levy died. Her draw­ings, prints and sculp­tures that of­ten de­picted in­hab­i­tants of her poor Berlin neigh­bor­hood had won her a rare mix of crit­i­cal ac­claim and public af­fec­tion. From the start, she worked from her drive to run to­ward ex­tremes of hu­man suf­fer­ing that most artists avoided. She in­stinc­tively ap­plied John Keats’s in­sight — “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” — to work­ing peo­ples’ lives and her own.

NA­TIONAL GALLERY OF ART

WIKI­ME­DIA COM­MONS

IN SUB­TLE RE­LIEF: Koll­witz’s grave­stone for Franz Levy.

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