Käthe Kollwitz (German, 1867–1945), Two Studies of a Woman's Head
Käthe Kollwitz (German, 1867–1945), Two Studies of a Woman's Head, c. 1903, conté crayon with stumping. Gift of David M. Daniels 71.65 © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Capturing Collateral Damage with a Conté Crayon

Wherever people love one another something very sad remains.

—Käthe Kollwitz

During the waning years of World War II, my father was taken as a prisoner of war in Germany. He was 21 years old at the time of his capture—exactly the same age as my youngest son as I write this. My father told vivid stories of his plane’s explosion in mid-air, parachuting into enemy territory, and his struggle to survive after being shot and pursued for many hours by his German captors. My father and his crew members were eventually apprehended and transported from one stalag to another knowing only that their future was in grave jeopardy. To me, this most compelling story did not include heroics and bravado, but instead was the description of his transformation from active combatant to passive captive. Closer to the ground, he witnessed the war-weary civilians and the devastated German cities that they encountered as they joined the German army in their westward retreat, away from the dreaded Red Army. My father described the awful conditions non-combatant Germans endured as the war came to an end. I was most surprised that his attitude was empathetic rather than vengeful. In his view, even the prison guards, who were about his age, were just as cold, hungry and tired as their American captives. Far from a movie representation of sadistic Nazis, the Germans he encountered, like him, were just trying to survive the war.

It took me less than 30 seconds to decide which of the drawings from “Marks of Genius: 100 Extraordinary Drawings” I would write about. Two Studies of a Woman’s Head from 1903 is an extraordinary drawing that demonstrates Käthe Kollwitz at her best. I walked into the exhibit last week, turned left and there was a drawing that embodied these tragedies of war. The drawing itself is probably a study for a more conceptually resolved print that depicts a mother holding a dead child (Pietà, 1903). This representation of war’s collateral damage was a common theme explored by Kollwitz.

Käthe Kollwitz (German, 1867–1945), Two Studies of a Woman's Head

Käthe Kollwitz (German, 1867–1945), Two Studies of a Woman’s Head, c. 1903, conté crayon with stumping. Gift of David M. Daniels 71.65 © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

In my childhood imagination, the stories my father told of war-torn Germany were always animated in black and white. That is why I was particularly attracted to the graphic work of Käthe Kollwitz when I first saw her drawings and prints in 1979 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. I was certain that Kollwitz was illustrating not only my father’s experience of war, but offered a universal portrayal of suffering, loss and sadness that results from any conflict. Through her work, I understood that in wartime, service men are not the only victims.

While the content of Kollwitz’ drawings and prints are emotional, her form is equally striking. By abandoning color and simplifying the composition to a highly reductive figure/ground arrangement, she is clearly an artist of her time—a modernist. But I am most attracted to Two Studies of a Woman’s Head because it reveals the physical act of its own making. Kollwitz makes little attempt to hide her marks by blending or correcting. Instead, she practically swaggers with confidence by allowing her marks—even her mistakes—to show. Kollwitz balances the expressiveness of her marks with a rigorous commitment to representational accuracy. In short, Kollwitz is a master of drawing. Her style represents an immediacy that only drawing can offer…a hand, a conté crayon, a piece of paper.


Daniel Bruggeman’s paintings often explore the fragile and ever-changing balance between humans and their natural environment. Bruggeman received his BFA from the University of Nebraska and his MFA from Hunter College in New York. He has been awarded numerous grants, including the Minnesota State Arts Board Grants, an Arts Midwest/NEA Visual Art Grant and a McKnight Foundation Grant. His work has been exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Minnesota Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Nebraska Art. Currently, Bruggeman is a Senior Lecturer in Art at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.

Dan P. Bruggeman will be featured in the MIA’s “Marks of Genius” Drawing Studio on Thursday evening, August 28, at 6:30 p.m. as part of the “The Artist Is In” series, free with admission to the exhibition.