It's almost criminal, you know; a brilliant artist toils in near-obscurity, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, watches as her art burns, lit by the people she so defended, and still never gets the recognition she deserves, even long after death, because some critic somewhere decides to lambaste her for her continual focus on people, pity, and suffering - and in the same breath drools over a 50-painting retrospective of Monet's fascination with haystacks.
It just ain't right, folks, and I'm here to let y'all know that.
Kathe Kollwitz is part of the Expressionist school, those famous tacklers of Worldwide Angst, but she had her own subtly human take on the subject. The best known in the genre - Munch, Beckmann, Schiele, Nolde, later Dubuffet and Bacon - they all studiously avoided realism in the hunt for the purest emotion possible. And they often succeeded, to be sure - The Scream isn't a pop-art icon for nothing. But two artists found the emotion in the real - the all-world Spanish heavyweight Goya and Kathe Kollwitz.
In fact, there are many similarities between the two - both lived through war and mined that vein well, and both were masters of portraying emotion through human form. Kollwitz never equaled the raw power of Goya's 'The Shootings of May Third 1808', to be sure, but then again, nobody else could either. Kollwitz was qualitatively different, though, as her work often had a sculptural brilliance about it, and a sort of populist outlook, much like her obvious counterpart in the Realist world, Honore Daumier.
And let's stop comparing the artist in question to her peers and let her work stand on its own. She's preoccupied with war, death, and loss, a wound that existed in her psyche previous to 1914, but was opened significantly by the First World War, where her only son was killed in battle (at Verdun, part of a mad and senseless infantry rush at machine gun pillboxes, IIRC). And she mastered her chosen mediums - charcoal, ink, lithography, and most notably, the woodcut. Check the line and shape, expressed in her 1921 self-portrait or her inking of 'The Volunteers' - power mixed with subtle detail. Often her works will leap out of the page into three dimensions, such is the beauty of their depth. Note the heroically misshapen forms of the protagonist of 'Battlefield' or the masses of humanity in 'The Mothers','The Survivors', or most authoritatively in 'In Memory of Karl Liebknecht'. Not that all of her work was about the suffering of war; no, there was just plain suffering sometimes, expressed in her myriad self-portraits or her series of early lithographs entitled 'End'.
Kollwitz was a German, a German until the bitter end, even after Adolf Hitler swept through and classified her and her works as 'degenerate'. It seems that the propaganda machine was not all that fond of her realist tendencies, portraying war as something other than the glorious march of German superiority it obviously was. She was a large part of the infamous 'Entartete Kunst' show, and many of her works later burned by the mobs. (It's fortunate that she mostly worked as a printmaker - only a few copies of her prints burned, with the rest saved for posterity.)
Kathe Kollwitz lived from 1867 to 1945.