Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Bite 30: Käthe Kollwitz - Mother with Dead Child, 1903

Mother with Dead Child, 1903, etching
There is no condolence here. The viewer is faced with the brutal fact of mortality - death far too soon - just as the mother depicted is. She is shown as a dark, jagged, hunched-over mass, clinging to what is left of her child, who is etched as almost angelic in comparison, with delicate features and a bony shoulder emphasising his vulnerability. In many ways the child is more present here. 

The overwhelming grief of the mother is focused interminably on the corpse of her child as she desperately embraces him. A pain no person should ever experience is here made all too real and tangible. 

Beate Bonus-Jeep, Kollwitz's close friend, described the etching as, "A mother, animal-like, naked, the light-coloured corpse of her dead child between her thigh bones and arms, seeks with her eyes, with her lips, with her breath, to swallow back into herself the disappearing life that once belonged to her womb."

Created with immense feeling the work represents a deep understanding of its subject matter yet Kollwitz had no direct experience of this. It was only during WWI that her own son, Peter, age 21, (who posed as the Dead Child at age 7) was killed in the trenches. Her grandson died in WWII.