Sharpening the Scythe, Käthe Kollwitz
Käthe Kollwitz
Sharpening the Scythe
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Käthe Kollwitz

Sharpening the Scythe, 1905

Sheet 3 of the cycle ‘Peasant War’

299 x 292 mm
297 mm
Platte (beschnitten)
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
On display, Special Exhibitions


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).

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