Käthe Kollwitz's lithograph is a fantastical scene, yet wrenchingly human. A mother, vulnerable in her nakedness, is jumped on by a skeleton that pulls her arms behind her, clamping one leg bone over her thigh and another around her lower leg to get a stronger grip. A young unclothed child, with arms outstretched and one leg raised, reaches to be held by his mother. Although the mother lurches forward to escape the death figure—with her child's feeble assistance&mdash'her thrown-back head, her resigned expression, and the black, halo-like shadow around the grinning skeleton signal her losing battle. There is no doubt who wins this horrible tug-of-war.
Although this image is grounded in Kollwitz's own personal experiences, it is a universal metaphor for one of life's most tragic losses: the death of a child's mother.
Käthe Kollwitz, Death and the Woman (Tod und Frau), 1910, lithograph, 17 3/8 x 17 1/8 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Bequest of Rudolph and Louise Langer. 68.1.754 © 2005 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
Käthe Kollwitz. © Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New Hampshire.