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Wednesday 5 October 2016

Käthe Kollwitz’s etching, “Zertretene”

Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945)
“Zertretene” (The Downtrodden), 1900
Etching and aquatint printed with dark brown ink on thick wove paper. (Note that this print has been cleaned by a conservator and the von Becke blindstamp has been flattened and only the trace of it can be seen verso at the bottom right.)
Size: (sheet) 80 x 43 cm; (plate) 62.8 x 23.8 cm
Klipstein 48 (August Klipstein, 'Verzeichnis des graphischen Werkes', Bern 1955)

Condition: richly inked and well printed impression with full margins as published posthumously by von Becke in the 1960s (?). There appears to be rubbed areas in the aquatint and there is a printer’s crease, otherwise the print is in pristine condition after having been cleaned by a conservator.

I am selling this very large Kollwitz etching for AU$550 in total (currently US$419.62/EUR374.16/GBP329.62 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. If you are interested in purchasing this visually arresting and important etching by one the truly great German printmakers, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

This very large etching (with aquatint) by Kollwitz is quite unlike many of her other prints. What I mean by this is that the bulk of Kollwitz’s prints focus on real life dramas whereas this print is like an icon that is richly laden with symbolism waiting to be deciphered and understood.

The laid out figure is clearly Christ’s body, as symbolised by the lance wound to his chest that the standing figure with the sword, symbolising Justice, is indicating—or perhaps exploring like doubting Thomas. From what I understand after reading about this print is that the two nude women on the right—one bound by a rope to a column—are thought to symbolise Need and Shame. Sadly, Kollwitz has not documented the symbolic meanings underpinning the women so critics are only speculating about what they signify.

From a personal standpoint, Kollwitz’s image of Christ pays homage to Holbein's famous painting, “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb”, and I can easily understand why Holbein’s dead Christ would have resonated strongly with an artist like Kollwitz: Holbein’s image speaks graphically of grim sorrow. The long horizontal format and the colour of the ink—a dark umber—also make me think of the long bronze friezes on cenotaphs commemorating the tragedy of war, especially the coming two world wars that Kollwitz may have sensed were yet to come. 

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