The revolt of the weavers

The revolt of the weavers

  • Misery.

    KOLLWITZ Käthe (1867 - 1945)

  • Procession of weavers.

    KOLLWITZ Käthe (1867 - 1945)

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Title: Misery.

Author : KOLLWITZ Käthe (1867 - 1945)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 15.4 - Width 15.3

Technique and other indications: Not, Plate 1 of the cycle The revolt of the weavers, 1893-1897. Lithography.

Storage location: Käthe Kollwitz Museum website

Contact copyright: © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008

Picture reference: Kl 34 IIa Not

© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008

To close

Title: Procession of weavers.

Author : KOLLWITZ Käthe (1867 - 1945)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 21.6 - Width 29.5

Technique and other indications: Weberzug, plate 4 of the cycle The revolt of the weavers, 1893-1897 Line etching and emery cloth.

Storage location: Käthe Kollwitz Museum website

Contact copyright: © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008

Picture reference: Kn 36 ll a (Kl 32 l a), Weberzug, Blatt 4

© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008

Publication date: September 2008

Historical context

Social tensions and the creation of the SPD in Germany

Germany at the end of the 19th century was marked by a tense social and political climate. In 1878, after an attack against William I, he took advantage of the situation to establish the Sozialistengesetzte ("Socialist Laws", 1878-1890), synonymous with an almost total ban on party activity outside the Reichstag. (“Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands”, Social Democratic Party of Germany in French) and found their historical legitimacy by focusing on their origins which date back to the revolution of 1848. This revolt sparked debate and contributed to the formation of opinions and appears to be a lasting example for politicians, intellectuals and artists.

Image Analysis

Social misery in pictures

The revolt of the weavers, a series of three lithographs and three engravings produced by Käthe Kollwitz between 1893 and 1898, illustrates the misery of weavers in Germany in the middle of the 19th century. The six scenes chosen by the artist form a programmatic cycle. The first two boards, Not ("Misery") and Tod ("Death"), show the causes of the revolt and the paralysis of men under political and economic pressure. The third, Beratung ("Consultation"), illustrates the reaction of the weavers to this situation: they conspire and prepare the fight. Plates four, Weberzug ("Procession of weavers") and five, Sturm ("Attack"), stage the uprising, and the last, Ende ("End"), the death of the weavers and the collapse of the revolt.
Not ("Misery"), the first lithograph in the series, shows a woman leaning over the body of her child, her head in her hands. In a dark setting which occupies three quarters of the image and which evokes a modest apartment, lit only by a small window at the back, the mother seems absorbed by her grief. The whiteness of the child's face suggests that he is seriously ill and already scarred by death. The only clear part of the image, its presence in the foreground gives it a central place, as does the pyramidal composition formed by the child-mother couple.
Despite this spatial proximity, however, there is no physical contact between mother and child or between them and the two other marble faces, which emerge from the black on the left side. The isolation and interiority of the characters only underscore the sad and desperate atmosphere of this family scene.
The fourth board, Weberzug (“Procession of weavers”), engraving made in 1897, illustrates a manifestation of weavers. In a rural landscape, men armed with scythes and axes and a woman carrying a child make their way to an unknown destination. Their clenched fists and determined steps suggest they are going to take political action or are coming back. The men appear weakened, marked by their social condition, and their faces express resignation and dismay. As in Not, their relationships seem to be reduced to physical proximity, and each other's isolation takes precedence over group membership. Here again, the expressive line of the engraving reflects the inner tension of the characters.

Interpretation

The Weavers Revolt - a committed art cycle

At the end of the 19th century, still marked by the social conflicts of the Bismarck era, the subject of the revolt of the weavers became a symbol of the struggle against workers' oppression by the liberal forces. Gerhard Hauptmann makes it the theme of his play Die Weber, premiered at the Freie Berliner Volksbühne on February 23, 1893. Käthe Kollwitz, who attended the premiere, was inspired by it for the series of images she began that same year. "The effect was overwhelming [...] this performance was a key event in my work," she says in her autobiography Rückblick auf frühere Zeit (1941). This cycle already announces the artist's major themes: revolt and revolution, the world of workers and their social condition, the relationship between mother and child, death. She also affirms the expressionist graphic style and the taste for series that will then characterize all her work. Despite the lull of social struggles in the late 1890s, the subject treated by Käthe Kollwitz remains subversive and embarrassing: when she presents The revolt of the weavers in Berlin during the Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung of 1898 and that Adolph von Menzel, with the support of Max Liebermann, nominates Käthe Kollwitz for a gold medal, the Kaiser Wilhelm II refuses him. While the violence of socialist laws was no longer relevant, social demands and the defense of working-class circles were far from being successful and continued to culminate in Spartacism in the interwar years.

  • Germany
  • Franco-German special issue
  • labor movement
  • workers
  • socialism
  • working class

Bibliography

Käthe Kollwitz, Exhibition catalog, Frankfurter Kunstverein Frankfurt, Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst Berlin, 1973.Sigrid ACHENBACH, Käthe Kollwitz: (1867-1945); Zeichnungen und seltene Graphik im Berliner Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, 1995.Jutta BOHNKE-KOLLWITZ (Verlag),Käthe Kollwitz. Die Tagebücher: 1908 - 1943, Siedler, Berlin, 1989.Alexandra von dem KNESEBECK, Käthe Kollwitz. Werkverzeichnis der Graphik, 2 volumes, Kornfeld, Berne, 2002. Otto NAGEL (ed.), Käthe Kollwitz, Die Handzeichnungen, Stuttgart, Kohlhammer, 1980.Hermann POLLIG, Käthe Kollwitz: Grafiken, Zeichnungen, Plastik, Stuttgart, I.F.A., 1985.

To cite this article

Silke SCHMICKL, "The revolt of the weavers"


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