Outbreak, working proof for sheet 5 of the Peasants’War series 1902/03. Käthe Kollwitz, (German, 1867–1945). Gray wash and white heightening, etching, drypoint, aquatint, lift ground, soft-ground etching, textile, and transfer screen. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES – The Getty Research Institute (GRI) announced today the acquisition and partial donation of a major collection of works on paper accumulated by internationally renowned collector Dr. Richard A. Simms. This collection, assembled over 40 years, was built around Simms’ abiding interest in German artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) and includes artists in her orbit – Max Klinger (1857-1920), Emil Nolde (1857-1956), Otto Greiner (1869-1916), Ludwig Meidner (1884-1996), and George Grosz (1893-1959). The gift portion of this collection represents the largest donation of graphic art received by the J. Paul Getty Trust.
In conjunction with the GRI acquisition, the J. Paul Getty Museum has received as a gift from Dr. Simms the drawing Study for Heinrich von Kleist’s Broken Jug, 1876, by Adolph Menzel (1815-1905). This donation celebrates the work of recently retired Senior Curator of Drawings Lee Hendrix.
“Käthe Kollwitz is one of Germany’s most important artists and her accomplishments in the graphic arts and sculpture are extraordinary. These facts are generally not so well known or appreciated in the US. With the unique combination of prints, working proofs, and drawings that focus on Kollwitz’s early career, Dr. Simms assembled a study collection showing precisely how she came to represent a defining moment in European printmaking. They are a substantial addition to the Getty Research Institute’s Special Collections,” said Thomas W. Gaehtgens, director of the GRI. “The Simms collection now counts as one of the most significant acquisitions of graphic art in the US and abroad. We are deeply grateful to Dr. Simms, not only for his extraordinary gift, and his foresight in building this unparalleled collection, but also for his long and fruitful relationship with the Getty. As founding chair of the GRI’s donor council, he has been a crucial partner in building our drawings and prints collections for the better part of two decades.”
Kollwitz was one of the great draftsmen and printmakers of the modern period, which is evident in the 41 drawings and 236 etchings, woodcuts, and lithographs collected by Simms. Many of the prints are working proofs, unfinished prints upon which she worked out an evolving composition in pencil, gouache, and chalk. If the Simms collection consisted only of Kollwitz’s masterpieces, it would be unparalleled in the US; but because Simms wanted to see Kollwitz in a broader context, he became a self-taught expert of the period and strategically assembled a coherent group of related works by her contemporaries, including a remarkable collection of 175 prints and 7 drawings by Klinger, who inspired Kollwitz to reject painting and devote herself to printmaking; prints and drawings by her second teacher Karl Stauffer-Bern (1857- 1891); and works by German Expressionists such as Ernst Barlach (1870-1938), whose woodcuts she admired; and Grosz, whose acerbic social commentary echoed Kollwitz’s own perspective. Simms’ interest in Kollwitz and the social and artistic milieu of late 19th and early 20th-century Germany led him to supplement his research library with letters by Kollwitz, Greiner, Klinger, and others, all of which are included in the donation.
“Kollwitz’s name invokes unforgettable images of the human condition—of war, protests, suffering, solidarity, familial bonds, mourning, and social justice expressed by powerful representations of the human body: mothers and children, men and boys hitched to ploughs, mourners on a battlefield, and uncompromising self- portraits,” said Louis Marchesano, curator of prints and drawings at the Getty Research Institute. “That the humanism of these images both documents and transcends the social and political upheavals of the early 20th century is well known, but because Kollwitz adhered to a staunchly figurative art in an era headed toward abstraction, and because she was a woman in a field dominated by men, her name recognition in the US isn’t what it should be.”
“Four decades ago when I began collecting,” said Dr. Richard Simms, “I was moved by Kollwitz’s images of the downtrodden, victims of war, and the underclass. But, I quickly understood that she was as dedicated to the artistic process as she was to humanism and social justice. I saw Kollwitz’s genius in the chalk, pencil, and wash emendations that cover the numerous working proofs I collected. This is why I pursued the greatest drawings, proofs, and finished prints at a time when these objects were still on the market. I wanted to build a masterpiece study collection that would encourage us to explore the depth of her thought, technique, and creativity. And I am convinced that the best place to carry out this exploration is at the Getty Research Institute.”
According to Marchesano, “what Dr. Simms understood about Kollwitz before most other collectors and scholars is that she managed to be an artist of the people, an artistic virtuoso admired by the most discerning collectors, and an artist’s artist. It is rather remarkable that she was able to move forward as she did without compromising her art or her political and social convictions.”
Käthe Kollwitz was born in 1867 in Königsberg, Germany (now Kaliningrad, Russia). Her father, the architect Karl Schmidt, encouraged her to pursue a career in art, which she began by training in Munich and Berlin. In the 1880s, she was directly influenced by Max Klinger’s prints and his tract Malerei und Zeichnung (Painting and Drawing), which convinced her to give up painting and devote her energies to the graphic arts. Her earliest surviving prints and drawings, important examples of which were acquired by Simms, date from around 1890.These include unflinching self- portraits as well as the remarkable study for her first important print Scene from Zola’s Germinal (1891).
During the next 15 years, she experimented with printmaking techniques and consolidated her reputation as one of history’s finest printmakers with two cycles, Ein Weberaufstand (A Weaver’s Revolt), 1897 and the Bauernkrieg (Peasants’ War), 1908. The undeniable power of the Peasants’ War intaglio series is brought into relief with the Simms collection’s preparatory drawings, proof impressions, and rejected compositions all of which document not only the evolution of individual images but also the general shift in her style away from a late 19th-century naturalism populated by incidental details toward a monumental figurative art informed by a sculptural sensibility.
The earliest composition which definitively marks Kollwitz’s departure from German naturalism is the famous Frau mit totem Kind (Woman with Dead Child, 1903), of which Simms collected not only extraordinary impressions, but also a heavily worked preparatory drawing on two sheets. The monumental, sculptural effects found here were reinforced in 1904 when Kollwitz lived in Paris. There she trained as a sculptor while experiencing the overwhelming influence of French Modernism, proof of which is offered by the single most critical drawing of this period, again in the Simms collection, the large Seated Nude Woman.
With continued success, her experiments in etching, lithography, and woodcut were well received. In 1919, she became the first woman admitted to the Berlin Akademie der Künste. In 1920, she published the impressive Gedenkblatt für Karl Liebknecht (Memorial sheet for Karl Liebknecht). Considered amongst the best of her mid-career, the sheet commemorates the death of Liebknecht, who was murdered along with fellow communist Rosa Luxembourg. The Simms collection includes an impressively large preparatory drawing, a version printed from a copperplate which Kollwitz rejected, and proof impressions of the final woodcut, as well as a sketch of the dead Liebknecht, who was drawn by Kollwitz at the request of the victim’s family.
In 1933, Kollwitz was expelled from the academy because of her support for an anti-Nazi petition in 1932. Her later work became less concerned with the kind of specific subjects that dominated the early part of her career in which Simms was most interested. Not unlike Rembrandt, what occupied Kollwitz throughout her life in print and drawing was self-portraiture—with images that range from an artist of youth and vigor who had just begun to explore the world, to a wizened, undefeated witness of modernity’s horrors.
Dr. Richard A. Simms became the founding chair of the Getty Research Institute’s Council in 2006 and a member of the Getty Museum’s Disegno Group in 2012. He has given significantly to both programs, including important works by Félix Vallotton, James Ensor, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and František Kupka. He has lent works of art, including many by Kollwitz, to the Getty, and to other institutions, including the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.) which in 1992 presented what remains the only major exhibition of Kollwitz’s work in the United States.
The Getty Research Institute’s collection of graphic works dates from the Renaissance to the present day and comprises about 35,000 individual prints, and hundreds of bound albums with many more prints, as well as art journals and related magazines illustrated with original prints. The GRI also holds hundreds of important sketchbooks, letters, and archives related to prints and printmakers. The Simms Collection joins these holdings as a major research resource and will be catalogued, digitized and exhibited.
The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades.