Preserving a Learning Tool: Käthe Kollwitz Self Portrait

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Art students at The University of Olivet have access to specialized studios, a Mac computer lab, professors with decades of experience and a professional art gallery. In addition to these assets, the institution is also home to the The University of Olivet Mary K. Armstrong Art Collection, a learning tool that allows students to develop a deeper appreciation for technique and history.

Käthe Kollwitz is an internationally renowned German artist best known for her depiction of the effects of war and poverty on working class citizens. She is particularly known for her portrayal of women throughout the early and mid-20th century. Kollwitz displayed her talents first through painting and later through etching, sculpture, lithography and printmaking. At times, she was known to even mix techniques in order to achieve one specific image.

Kollwitz had a great compassion for those in need, which she expressed through decades of works portraying grief, mourning and the stark reality of war. This can be seen profoundly after the death of her son during World War I. Kollwitz was also said to gather much of her inspiration during visits to her husband’s medical clinic. Over time, her work has come to be known and admired for the display of truth and raw emotion it expresses.

Kollwitz created a series of self-portraits, the last of which was a lithograph created in 1934, just 10 years before her death. There were only 80 copies of this particular lithograph made, one of which we are grateful to have among the art collection at The University of Olivet.

The self-portrait hones in tightly on the artist’s face, focusing on her solemn expression and age-worn features. This piece is printed on heavy woven paper and is signed in pencil by the artist herself. The college has kept this lithograph in stable condition by storing it in acid-free tissue in order to protect it from deterioration. However, due to age, the lithograph has yellowed and is in need of a professional restoration.

“The entire The University of Olivet Art Collection is a fabulous teaching tool. Sharing the collection with students inspires them to develop a deeper appreciation for art history and interest in the care and preservation of artwork,” explained Gary Wertheimer, professor of art. “Virtually the only portraits Kollwitz made during her life were images of herself, of which there are at least fifty. We are fortunate to have in our collection her last self portrait, which is of particular significance. By this time in her life, she had suffered the loss of her only son in World War I, lived through the post war economic ruin of Germany, and witnessed the destruction of Europe at the hands of the Nazis.

“In addition, I think that Kollwitz’s personal mission resonates with our values at The University of Olivet, as her goal was to champion social justice through art. Undertaking this restoration is a relatively new task for the college, and museum grade archival materials are costly. The visual arts annual operating budget does not cover such costs, so we must rely on friends of the college to make it possible to restore this wonderful piece of art for the Olivet community.”

In order to complete this restoration properly, The University of Olivet is calling on its alumni and friends. Completing this restoration for the The University of Olivet Art Collection would be another step toward the goal of having our collection available to the public, and most importantly, available for students to study and learn from.

The University of Olivet is committed to restoring the lithograph and framing it with a museum-grade archival mat board before further damage occurs. The conservation treatment and proper rehousing of Kollwitz’s print is estimated to cost a total of $2,000. This historic restoration will be made possible through the generous donations of those who understand the significance of the unique piece of art.

“This is a very real opportunity for alumni and friends to make a direct impact on students,” said Carol Flanigan, senior director of annual giving. “Students will be able to study and learn from this lithograph, affecting them personally and academically. They will understand the impact giving can have on others, and see beyond the four years they are on campus to connect with the future generations of The University of Olivet.”

In 2017, funds were raised to restore the 17th Century Albrecht Durer woodcut print, “The Capture of Christ.” Durer was an exceptionally famous German artist of the Northern Renaissance and is still know today as a true master and innovator in the art of printmaking. Currently, significant progress has been made to restore the print and in the coming months, this significant piece of history will be prepared to withstand time.

To learn more about how you can help support the Kollwitz lithograph restoration, contact Carol Flanigan at cflanigan@uolivet.edu or 269.749.7625. Gifts can also be made online.


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