Just coming back from restoration the Lithograph Verbrüderung (henceforth Brotherhood) by the famous German sculpture and printmaker Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) shines in new splendor. The print shows a very expressive and emotional embracement of two men that immediately piqued my interest.
First I was very surprised by this subject matter as I am only familiar with Kollwitz very sad and serious topics of mother and child, death and misery. When I read something about the background of this print I got an idea in what kind of emotional boundary these two men could be situated. Kollwitz made this print in 1924 for the frontispiece of Henri Barbusse’s novel Der singende Soldat (The singing soldier). The book was published in a one-time numbered edition with 700 copies in German and 700 copies in English. It deals with the brotherhood of German and French soldiers and it is criticizing World War I. Also Kollwitz shared some of these ideas, as she was pacifistic and agreed with socialist ideas especially after her son died in World War I.
This background information let the image appear in a different light. My first impression of the embracement was that both men have a very intimate relationship, but does this has to say it is a homosexual one? While having a closer look on this depiction one can see that both men’s faces do not touch each other and that the space where the bodies would meet lays in shadow. Their embracement is very masculine, strong and not delicate and there is no actual conversation. Only the intense gaze of the man showed in profile and the thoughtful and serious glance of the other one depicted in three-quarter tells us that there is a mental communication.
One could not tell from the image itself if these both men are soldiers as the title of Barbusse’s Novel The singing Soldier would refer to. Even though heir faces seem to be emaciated, their haircut short and their clothes simple it does not show enough military attributes. Nevertheless it is an image of Brotherhood or in other words: male boundary, friendship and fraternity, where the viewer becomes a witness of a very intimate emotional moment. Perhaps traumatic experiences from the First World War, which they got through together, are the reason for this deep boundary of the two men. However, this image could be also beheld despite from any historical backgrounds and with a contemporary view. Brotherhood or fraternity in male groups are still a part of our modern society and appears in our every day life and media. That is why this print, which was depicted 90 years ago, still has a contemporary meaning and is a timeless statement about male friendship.
Käthe Schmidt Kollwitz, Verbrüderung, 1924.Lithograph on paper. 10 3/4 x 7 11/16 inches (27.3 x 19.5 cm). Bequest of Marjorie Pfeffer. 2008.6.10.