The Age of the Manifesto

Following the heady days of printmaking by Cheret, Bonnard and Toulouse Lautrec at the end of the 19th century, lithography took a back seat once again, this time to a new wave of artists openly rejecting received notions of fine art including contemporary color lithography. Known as the age of Manifesto's, these generally young artists banded together in like-minded groups and invariably issued a manifesto or statement about how they rejected the art establishment in favor of whatever cause appealed to them most.

This expansion of modern artistic expression was invariably informed by an explosion of new ideas obtained in the cafes and bars of Paris and Munich, packed with academics, philosophers, poets, writers, critics, the likes of Apollinaire and even the occasional scientist. Preoccupation with technology, for instance, informed Futurist ideas and their art in Italy, innovative ways of seeing and using color informed the Fauves in France , while in Germany the notion of portraying what is felt by the artist having precedence over what is seen, using an amazing new combination of bold color and form characterized the German Expressionists.

Ironically, many of these Manifesto driven young artists turned to graphic media as an important temporary departure from the canvas that informed and ultimately enhanced their overall artistic expression, especially in Germany. A good example was the innovative use of the very German tradition of fine art woodcuts by the Expressionists, such as, Kirchner, Heckel, Mack and Nolde (their original woodcuts are an extremely rare find nowadays and very expensive).

A handful of the older generation of German artists with a long term interest in and practice of printmaking, spanning decades, such as, the sculpture Ernst Barlach and Kathe Kollwitz in Germany, continued to see the merit of fine art graphic works as a valid and very powerful means of artistic expression and vital visual communication, especially as social, political and economic circumstances rapidly changed in Europe leading up to World War 1. Both Kollwitz and Barlach created some powerful and seminal graphic works that questioned the values of the "prosperous" urban society as well as the sanity of the build up to WW1.

Kollwitz was unique, however, in her laser focus on the plight of the needy, especially, vulnerable women and children left out on the fringe of society. Be it disease, economic hardship, war or other socioeconomic ills, women and children invariably bore the brunt of the burden. Producing hundreds of etchings in her prolific career, tragically almost all her works were destroyed in the bombing of Berlin in 1945 (Kollwitz died in these tragic circumstances just weeks before the end of the war).

This exhibit showcases a very rare portfolio published in Munich on the eve of WW1 (1913) including her most powerful and well known graphic works that met the issues of the vulnerable and needy head on in ways that only modern graphic art and Kollwitz can accomplish. Produced as high quality photogravures with her own signature on the frontispiece of the portfolio and a rare personal photograph, this is a rare glimpse into her superb printmaking ability.