Sharpening the Scythe, Käthe Kollwitz
Käthe Kollwitz
Sharpening the Scythe
Back to top
Related works

Related external works

Printing plate

Käthe Kollwitz: Beim Dengeln, Druckplatte. Stiftung Archiv der Akademie der Künste, Kunstsammlung, Berlin

Käthe Kollwitz

Sharpening the Scythe, 1905

Sheet 3 of the cycle ‘Peasant War’

299 x 292 mm
height: 297 mm
Platte (beschnitten)
width: 297 mm
Physical Description
Line etching, drypoint, sandpaper, and soft ground, revised with pencil
Inventory Number
SG 4377
Object Number
SG 4377 D
Acquired in 1964 from the collection of Helmut and Hedwig Goedeckemeyer
Not on display


About the Work

Kollwitz developed the immediacy of her compositions in several stages: by way of detail studies from nature, composition designs, but also prints she revised by hand. She sometimes etched an entire printing plate only to reject it and begin anew. The ‘making-of’ the etching “Sharpening the Scythe” strikingly documents this process. The third image in the “Peasant War”, it represents a key turning point in the cycle’s narrative: the moment in which the protagonist decides to go the way of bloody revolt.

It took Kollwitz nearly a year to arrive at the final composition for this work. She began with an allegorical figure: Inspiration whispering the idea of an uprising into the peasant woman’s ear (inv. no. SG 3345, SG 4224, SG 4344). Then the artist gradually reduced this symbolistic composition to its psychological content. In the end all we see is the woman’s face as she pauses in the work of sharpening her scythe, like a close-up in a film. Her squinting eyes mirror her murderous resolve in all its force.

About the Acquisition

Immediately after World War I, the art connoisseur and bibliophile Helmut Goedeckemeyer (1898–1983) began amassing one of the largest collections of prints by Käthe Kollwitz. He supplemented these holdings with works of late nineteenth-century French and German printmaking, illustrated books by Max Slevogt, Alfred Kubin and others, and small-scale sculptures by such artists as Aristide Maillol. His collection ultimately encompassed more than 5,000 works. Goedeckemeyer’s close ties to the Städel Museum date back to the 1920s. From 1959 onwards, he and his wife Hedwig were members of the Städelscher Museums-Verein (Städel Museum Association). The City of Frankfurt acquired his Kollwitz collection for the Städtische Galerie (Municipal Gallery) in 1964. He made several gifts to the Städel collection of prints and drawings over the years, and in 1970 presented the museum with Honoré Daumier’s “Ratapoil” (inv. no. St.P391).

Work Data

Basic Information

Sharpening the Scythe
Sheet 3 of the cycle ‘Peasant War’
Part Number / Total
3 / 7
Period Produced
Object Type
Physical Description
Line etching, drypoint, sandpaper, and soft ground, revised with pencil
Geographic Reference
Label at the Time of Manufacture
Signiert unterhalb der Darstellung rechts (mit Bleistift): Kollwitz
Captions Added Later
Bezeichnet unten links (mit Bleistift): K 194; unten rechts: II / X
Verso bezeichnet unten links (mit Bleistift): K 194; daneben rechts: Kl. 90 II überarb.; unten rechts: 237 [im Kreis]; daneben rechts: 63 [im Kreis]; darunter: 11 / Eig. Koll Dru
Verso Stempel der Sammlung Goedeckemeyer (nicht bei Lugt)
Verso Stempel der Städtischen Galerie, Frankfurt am Main (Lugt 2371c), mit zugehöriger Inventarnummer
  • Nicht vorhanden
Work Catalogues
  • von dem Knesebeck 88 II (von XIV)
  • Klipstein 90 II (von XII)

Property and Acquisition

Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Picture Copyright
Public Domain
Acquired in 1964 from the collection of Helmut and Hedwig Goedeckemeyer

Work Content

Motifs and References

Main Motif


  • 4 Society, Civilization, Culture
  • 31D15 adult woman
  • 46AA14 farmers - AA - female farmer, farmer's wife
  • 47I15 agricultural implements
  • 47I15(SCYTHE) agricultural implements: scythe
  • 47B1 handicrafts, craftsman at work

More to discover


Do you have any suggestions, questions or information about this work?

Last update