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Work by Major German Printmaker Donated to Moravian College
Bethlehem, Pa. October 27, 2005—Paul Larson, professor emeritus of music, and his wife, Janice Larson, have given Moravian College an etching from Käthe Kollwitz’s Bauernkrieg (Peasant War) series. The print is called “Bewaffnung in einem Gewölbe” (“Attack on a Vault”). It shows a crowd of peasants in helmets and crude armor swarming up the wall of an armory.
Kollwitz is recognized as the most important female printmaker of the 20th century, says Martha Kearns, author of Käthe Kollwitz: Woman and Artist, the definitive 1991 biography in English of the artist.
An adjunct professor of art history at Moravian, Kearns has curated several exhibits of Kollwitz’s work for the Goethe-Institut [cq] in New York. She is co-founder and executive director of FrankfordStyle, a community arts center in North Philadelphia, and also teaches art history at Chestnut Hill College.
Kollwitz (1867-1945) was the wife of a doctor who lived among and treated the poor workers of Berlin. In addition to Peasant War, her most important prints are The Weavers’ Uprising (1893-97) and three series of woodcuts (1919, 1921, and 1923) criticizing World War I, in which she had lost her son, Peter.
Peasant War was created in 1908. The artist restruck (reprinted) the lithograph series in 1922 and 1927. Larson’s gift is believed to be from the 1927 restrike, and is valued at around $4,000.
The peasant wars of the title were a series of rebellions in 1525 brought on by Luther’s challenge to the Roman Catholic Church. The serfs saw his reforms of church liturgy and doctrine as a blow for their own economic freedom and rose against their aristocratic owners. As they had no arms but farm implements, their revolt was quickly and harshly put down.
“The print came to us through Paul Larson's generosity,” says Diane Radycki, assistant professor of art history and director of Payne Gallery. “What a wonderful surprise to come to work and find an important artwork sitting on my desk!”
“I am excited about the gift,” she continues, “because Käthe Kollwitz is an important graphic artist as well as an important woman artist. In 1929, she was made the first woman member of the Prussian Academy in Berlin. She was a person of strong social convictions, and her work protests the conditions of the poor and the oppressed: most often society's most helpless: women and children.
“Through two world wars, she expressed one of the strongest pacifist voices and visions in art. Kollwitz represents the element of social protest prominent in German Expressionism—as compared to, say, Edvard Munch (The Scream), who represents the personal torment in German Expressionism.
“Kollwitz also was an activist for women’s art education in the early 20th century. There was a day when women and men were not allowed to go to art school together, and they suffered thereby, immediately, in their training and, ultimately, in their career opportunities. Kollwitz had a large career in art, and she used it to push for equal opportunities for other women art students and artists.
“Adding a Kollwitz print—our first—to the collection makes sense for us in many ways: first, because of Moravian's founding as a girls' school, one committed to art and music; also, because of the college's Central European heritage; finally, because of the presence on our art history faculty of Martha Kearns.
“The print is an important addition to our collection of graphic works. For many years the gallery has collected contemporary graphics. Two years ago, we purchased an early woodcut by the incomparable German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer; now we add a work by the formidable German Expressionist artist Käthe Kollwitz.”
As an art history teacher, Radycki says, “I will be using the Kollwitz, as I currently use the Dürer, in course assignments, whether they be about art history, print-making, or women’s studies. Most important, an art collection that grows in importance and prestige allows me to grow Moravian students’ pride in their institution.”
Moravian College is a private, coeducational, selective liberal arts college located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Tracing its founding to 1742, it is recognized as America's sixth-oldest college. Visit the web site at www.moravian.edu.