Teaching as Empowerment II: Käthe Kollwitz and her student Elisabeth Voigt

« Art School Certificate of Elisabeth Voigt by Käthe Kollwitz »

Academy of Arts, Berlin, Archive of the Prussian Academy of Arts (1696-1955), Signature: PrAdK 1142, page: 22

“Her effort especially with the medium woodcut corresponds to her extraordinary talent and her thorough way of studying”, Kollwitz states in the art school certificate of Elisabeth Voigt. This document of 1935 is part of the Archive of the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. For several years, Elisabeth Voigt was a student of Käthe Kollwitz at the Prussian Academy of Arts, as the document reveals. As well as in the case of Sella Hasse, which I discussed in the first part of my essay series, Käthe Kollwitz’s mentoring and teaching had also a lasting effect on her student Elisabeth Voigt.

In 1919 on January 24th, at the age of 52, Käthe Kollwitz became a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, which was founded in 1696 in Berlin as an art school for drawing, painting, and sculpting. Even thoughKäthe Kollwitz became a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts in the beginning of 1919 and a professor six months later, she did not start teaching until 1928, when she became the first female leader of a masterclass – the masterclass for graphic arts. “I receive a message that the Ministry has appointed me head of the master class for graphic arts. Good, big studio, nice salary, but of course teaching duties,”[1] Käthe Kollwitz wrote in her diary in 1928. It seems that the assignment felt more like a burden for her.

Käthe Kollwitz, Woman with Orange, 1901, etching and lithography, 23,0 x 11,2 cm, Museum of Prints and Drawings, Berlin State Museums.

On May 21th in 1928 Käthe Kollwitz became the first woman in the most high-ranking committee of the Academy – the senate. During her time in the Academy, Kollwitz supported female artists by, for instance, proposing them as new members for the Academy.[2] Despite Kollwitz’ reservations towards teaching, she supported her students who worked with her in the studio.[3] This was the place where she also held her courses.[4] During her four years as a teacher of the Academy she had five students: two female and three male students. Two of her students, Elisabeth Voigt and Hugo Peschel, worked very closely with Kollwitz. She even considered Voigt, who later worked as an artist as well, as “the most interesting” of her students, “then Ruth Michaelis, then the young Boese,”[5] she stated in 1928.

Born in 1898, 31 years after Kollwitz, Elisabeth Voigt, her most promising student as Kollwitz stated, dedicated her artwork to the idea of human beings as her main focus.[6] The teacher-student relationship with Käthe Kollwitz, was followed by a long lasting friendship comparable to that of Sella Hasse .[7] While analysing Voigt’s artworks, Kollwitz’ influence on her in relation to the medium and the subject is readily apparent. For about a decade, for instance, Voigt focused her artistic output on graphic print like drawings and woodcut.[8] As well as Kollwitz, her style of representing realities in the lives of men and women can be often described as expressive and connected with a sociocritical connotation.[9]

In Voigt’s artwork “Self-portrait with apple” from 1926, which can be compared with Kollwitz’ similar self-portrait “Woman with Orange” from 1901, she presented herself as an emancipated and self-confident women artist.[10] The sharp contrasts, created by the thick lines, is reminiscent of Käthe Kollwitz’ strongly contrasted woodcut style. Back then, as well as Kollwitz, her art was often described as “manly” and atypical for a woman artist.[11] In Voigt’s later years, she started to abandon the woodcut in favor of other techniques, like drawing, which became an independent means of expression for her.[12] Like Kollwitz, Voigt also became a teacher and a professor in her later years. Due to these striking similarities between these two women artists, it can thus be suggested that Kollwitz left a lasting impression on Voigt, in terms of her art, but also in terms of her profession and life choices.

My essays have discussed the influence of Kollwitz as a teacher and her role in the life of two of her students. The purpose of my essays is to illustrate that female teachers can have a significant role in female art students’ life courses and empower them in their artistic work. The two archive documents of Sella Hasse and Elisabeth Voigt prove that their teacher Kollwitz played an important role in their artistic career. Käthe Kollwitz clearly was one of the female pioneers in the field of women artist’s education and thus improved the visibility of women artists in society and functioned as a role model and mentor. My short essays have also shown that Kollwitz acts as a loyal supporter. She passed her technical and artistic knowledge to her female students and helped them with support and guidance. This altruistic mentorship is essential for empowering women artists through teaching – then and now.

[1] Bohnke-Kollwitz, Jutta (Ed.), Käthe Kollwitz – Die Tagebücher. 1908-1943, Munich 2012, p. 641.

[2] Körner, Dorothea, Käthe Kollwitz und die Preußische Akademie der Künste, in: Berlinische Monatsschrift (Issue 6, 2000), p. 176.

[3] Ibid., p. 175.

[4] Iris Berndt/Isabell Flemming, Käthe Kollwitz in Berlin – Ein Stadtrundgang, Berlin 2015, p. 37.

[5] Bohnke-Kollwitz, Jutta (Ed.), op. cit., Munich 2012, p. 643.

[6] Scherf, Helmut, Elisabeth Voigt. Bildnis einer Künstlerin. Berlin 1962, p. 6.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., p. 7.

[9] Ibid., p. 8. and p. 11f.

[10] Ibid., p. 8.

[11] Ibid, p. 18.

[12] Ibid., p. 11.

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