MoMA and the Neue Galerie Join Forces to Acquire a Searing Self-Portrait by Käthe Kollwitz
The work is already on view at MoMA, alongside another jointly acquired work by Paula Modersohn-Becker.
In the latest example of museums joining forces to acquire pricey artworks while offsetting some of the expense, two New York institutions—the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Neue Galerie—announced they have acquired Käthe Kollwitz’s Self-portrait en face (1904), a lithograph that they described in a statement as “one of the most extraordinary self-portraits made in the early years of the 20th century.”
Depicting the artist in dusky tones, with downcast eyes and a raw realism, the acquisition is a fitting one, given MoMA’s plans to organize a major exhibition of Kollwitz’s work with an accompanying scholarly catalogue in the coming years. The museum already owns 34 other Kollwitz prints. The Neue Galerie, with a focus on Modern German and Austrian art, was cofounded by top collector and philanthropist Ronald S. Lauder, who is also honorary chairman of MoMA’s board of trustees.
The work appears to be the same one that, according to the Artnet Price Database, sold in September 2021 at Galerie Kornfield in Bern, Switzerland, for CHF 730,000 ($785,000), more than quadrupling the CHF 175,000 estimate. It is the highest price paid at auction for Kollwitz’s work to date.
“Käthe Kollwitz’s legacy looms large over the 20th and 21st centuries,” said Christophe Cherix, MoMA’s chief curator of drawings and prints. “Executed in 1904, early in the artist’s remarkable life, Self-portrait en face is both a monument in the history of printmaking and a work that speaks as much to its time as ours.” Cherix said the work will be on view in the museum’s newly refurbished fifth-floor collection galleries beginning May 28.
“We are very grateful for this unique opportunity to acquire a work by this important German artist,” said Renée Price, director of the Neue Galerie. “Self-portrait en face is a very rare, strong impression.”
According to a statement, the acquisition was supported at MoMA by the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Endowment for Prints and a gift from Jack Shear, Marlene Hess and James D. Zirin, Alice and Tom Tisch (in honor of Marlene Hess), Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Emily Rauh Pulitzer, Maud I. Welles, Ronnie Heyman (in honor of Marlene Hess), and Carol and Morton Rapp; and at the Neue Galerie by a gift from Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder.
The artist was born in 1867 in the Prussian city of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia). Though she initially trained as a painter, she shifted to drawing and printmaking, which she saw as the most effective mediums for social critique.
“Kollwitz used her work to confront the injustices of her time from a woman’s perspective, and to assert the female point of view as a necessary and powerful agent for change,” according to the museums’ statement. Along with scenes depicting motherhood and the working class, self-portraiture was an important recurring theme in her work.
Only 12 impressions of this particular lithograph are known, and they were created in a few different color variations. This example is “remarkable for the depth and subtlety of its hues,” according to the release.
This is not the first time the two institutions have joined to acquire work. Five years ago, in 2017, the two institutions acquired a self-portrait by artist Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907), the early Expressionist painter and pioneer of the 20th-century German avant-garde. The work was a gift to MoMA from Debra and Leon Black (who was the chair of the board at the time) and to the Neue Galerie from Ronald S. Lauder.
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