Käthe Kollwitz produced over one-hundred self-portaits throughout her life in a variety of techniques: drawing, etching, lithography, woodcut and sculpture. These portraits, emphasizing every decade of her creative activity, should not be understood however „as witnesses of vain self-mirroring. Rather, self-portraits feature prominently in the work of those artists who engage intensely with the problems of their time… With them, the self-portrait emerges as a constantly recurring critical confrontation with one’s self, a quiet, frequently unsparing self-questioning, a sober reflection on one’s state-of-being, a necesary statement in which the artist confronts herself as well as the day and age he lives in.” (Werner Trimm) The textual compliment to her self-portraits are Kollwitz’ extensive letters, memoirs and diary. Here we discover her thoughts, hopes, fears and impressions. These writings, seen as literary unfoldings of the self-portrait, mirror the main themes of her art: life and death, suffering and empathy, brutality, sickness, family, children, old age and growing old, misery and innocence. She champions the vulnerable poor, despairing; she is the artistic patron saint of mother and child, of the outcast and downtrodden, of those who are neglected and whose lives constantly hang in the balance. Her art is an art of social conscience. Of course, precisely these themes constitute and provide for the ever-presence and relevance of Kollwitz’ art: her themes are also ours and every self-portrait is part of a profound humanity with which we can (should, must) identify ourselves.
Kollwitz-Konnex (…im Frieden seiner Hände), a song-cycle for soprano and guitar, unfolds in six movements organized into nine profiles/pictures: each movement represents a decade in Kollwitz’ creative life; every profile corresponds to a specific self-portrait.
Kollwitz-Konnex “…im Frieden seiner Hände”
Ia. Selbstbildnis en face, lachend (1888/1889)
b. Selbstbildnis am Tisch (1893)
II. Selbstbildnis en face (1904)
III. Selbstbildnis, Halbprofil nach rechts ((1916)
IVa. Vier Selbstbildnis Studien (um 1919-1924)
b. Selbstbildnis (1922)
Va. Selbstbildnis (1934)
b. Ruf des Todes (1937)
VI. Selbstbildnis im Profil nach rechts (1938)
The texts and textual context for the movements are taken exclusively from her writings. These are not necessarily time-bound to their corresponding self-portrait since Kollwitz’ writings frequently express themselves as time-in/becomes-space: premonitions, reflections, memories and reminiscences swirl into each other as in circular time. The same themes arise regularly, like an ever-repeating artistically compulsive (suffocating, rejuvenating) pulling together: children, work, death, old age, faith, art., music, children, work… Silesius’ poetic sentiment can be regarded as a leitmotif in her life and work:
You Must Blossom Now
„Awake, O wintry Christian!
May greens before your gate.
If now you grow not verdant,
Death surely be your fate.” (The Cherubinic Wanderer )
Poets faithfully accompanied Kollwitz on her life’s path. Select maxims, sayings and poems from Heine, Silesius and her beloved Goethe („very early he took root in me. For my entire life I never let him go”) quoted in her writings introduce the profiles of every movement.
Kollwitz-Konnex is a large and multifaceted Konnex: a connection between self-portraits, between the past and present, between the artist and society, and not least a connection between her art and her profound influence on my own person and music.
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