Teaching as Empowerment I: Käthe Kollwitz and Her Student Sella Hasse

“Encounter with Käthe Kollwitz” by Sella Hasse
Academy of Arts, Berlin, Sella Hasse – Partial Estate, Signature: Hasse-Sella 12

Käthe Kollwitz, one of the most prominent female artists in Germany, spend almost ten years working as a teacher in two renowned art schools. Even though she was insecure about her teaching assignments, her work as a teacher especially empowered her female students. Two documents from the Archive of the Academy of Arts in Berlin that provide the evidence of Kollwitz’s teaching will function as a starting point to approach this topic of female empowerment through teaching.

For about five years, Kollwitz worked as a teacher for etching, drawing, and nude study at the Berlin School for Women Artists, which was established by the Association for Berlin Women Artists in 1868 with the purpose to create a place where women were officially trained and educated to pursue a career as a professional artist.[1] The opening of this school was the first opportunity for women artists in Germany to be educated in drawing, anatomy, and perspective to pursue a profession in the visual arts. In the later years, the Berlin School for Women Artists became one of the most prominent places to go to for women artist’s education.[2]

Unfortunately, due to World War II there are no archive documents which document the teacher-student relation between Kollwitz and her student Sella Hasse. Nonetheless, other important archive documents prove the influence, in terms of subject and printing technique, Kollwitz’s teaching had on Hasse. Her old teacher came to be more like a mentor to Hasse, a source of guidance and a role model.

Shortly after Käthe Kollwitz’s breakthrough with “The Weavers” in 1887, she began teaching in 1900 at the Berlin School for Women artists, the same school from where she once received a big part of her education.[3] In the archive document, a recommendation letter from 1929, Käthe Kollwitz describes one of her most important students of her time at the Berlin Art School Sella Hasse: “Madame Hasse is an artist with a fine taste and has a thorough artistic education. I take a stand for the quality of her performance.” Sella Hasse, born in 1878, maintained a lasting and supportive friendship with her former teacher Kollwitz.[4] “When I’m helpless, she is always there with good advice.”[5], Sella Hasse stated in an article about her friendship which is also a part of the Archive of the Academy of Arts Berlin.

Käthe Kollwitz, Storming the Gate – Attack, sheet 5 of the cycle »A Weavers’ Revolt«, 1893-1897, line etching and sandpaper, Kn 37 II a

In 1902, Käthe Kollwitz and Sella Hasse met for the first time in Berlin: “Only one month was granted to me to take lessons from Käthe Kollwitz […]. One colored lithographic print and the litho ‘asphalt workers’ emerged from her extraordinary technical knowledge.”[6] It is readily apparent from this quote that Sella Hasse was significantly impressed by her teacher Kollwitz and appreciated her substantial artistic knowledge. When reading Sella Hasse’s article about her time with Kollwitz, it is conceivable that she even considered her famous teacher as a role model.[7] This is supported by the fact that in 1912, Sella Hasse decided to visit the art school in Paris, where Kollwitz once studied, where she stayed in the same apartment and visited the same places as her former teacher. Furthermore, the impact Kollwitz had on Sella Hasse’s artwork is clearly visible. Like Kollwitz, she tends to create artwork with a sociocritical impetus, often making male and female workers the focus of her artworks.[8] The famous series of graphics “Rhythm of Work” by Sella Hasse from 1912-16 even is specially dedicated to Käthe Kollwitz and illustrates her artistic influence on her student and assumingly Hasse’s admiration. She dedicated this artwork to the matter of human labour by displaying workers during their physical efforts. An old letter from 1916, 14 years after Hasse’s participation in the graphics class, reveals that Kollwitz supported and encouraged her to stick to the topos of workers in her artwork: “May I tell you, that I feel very sorry, that you don’t stick to the workers as a subject? I am very much hoping that you would portray the worker and get much more out of it.”[9]
In the specific case of Kollwitz and Hasse it appears that there is a significant empowering effect of Kollwitz’s teaching on her student. Sella Hasse was substantially influenced and empowered in terms of subject, medium and artistic approach and thus felt enabled to become an emancipated woman artist.


[1] Berlinische Galerie (Ed.), Ausstellung Profession ohne Tradition, 125 Jahre Verein der Berliner Künstlerinnen, Berlin 1992, p. 320.

[2] Ibid., p. 353.

[3] Ibid., p. 366.

[4] Ibid., p. 121.

[5] Hasse, Sella, Begegnung mit Käthe Kollwitz, in: Bildende Kunst, H.2 (1955), p. 106.

[6] Sella Hasse, Begegnung mit Käthe Kollwitz, in: Bildende Kunst, H.2 (1955), p. 105f.

[7] Cf. Winterberg, Yuri/Winterberg, Sonya, Kollwitz – Die Biografie, Munich 2015, S. 169.

[8] Ibid., p. 122.

[9] Frank, Volker (Ed.), Käthe Kollwitz – Bekenntnisse, Leipzig 1987, p. 27.


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