Virtual Visit: Devotion
Text and Images Courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum

Above: Julius Rolshoven, Madame Koch and Her Children, 1898. Oil on canvas. Gift of Ellen and Howard C. Katz in honor of the Museum’s 50th Anniversary.

“They say nothing lasts forever, but they’re just scared it will last longer than they can love it.”  – Ocean Vuong

Although Valentine’s Day has come and gone, we still have love and all it entails on our mind. Inspired by these musings, this week’s Virtual Visit features a range of works from across the PhxArt collection that explore the theme of devotion—of giving all of yourself unconditionally to a person, to a family, to a craft, faith, or cause. Reading, viewing, and music lists add to our understanding of the beauty, the sorrow, the struggle, and everything in between that come from pouring your energy wholeheartedly into a relationship, goal, or creative endeavor. 

Above: Julius LeBlanc Stewart, Spring Flowers (In the Conservatory), 1890. Oil on canvas. Gift of Citibank.

Above: Käthe Kollwitz, Maria and Elisabeth, 20th century. Woodcut. Long term loan from Schorr Collection. © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

For our first of two deep-looking features in this Virtual Visit, assistant curator Rachel Sadvary Zebro, with assistance from Museum educator Linda Alvarez, offers an analysis on the work of artist Käthe Kollwitz, whose prints are currently on view as part of the exhibition Out of Print: Innovations of 19th- and 20th-Century Printmaking from the Collection of Phoenix Art Museum and the Schorr Collection.

“The word ‘devotion’ brings to mind personal acts of love, faith, and loyalty. For centuries, artists have expressed their own devotions as a means to communicate spiritual, cultural, and social matters. For the leading German Expressionist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), the traditional medium of the print would serve as a political tool to share one of her deepest devotions—a commitment to revealing the social injustices brought upon the ordinary, working-class people of Germany, particularly women and children who endured the stark realities of poverty, war, crisis, and revolt. 

Dedicated to her family and her country, Kollwitz never left her homeland despite decades of living through two world wars and the rise of Nazism. She had a strong commitment to the land and to the working-class people in Berlin, which deeply informed her prints. As a woman and mother, she also faced the struggles of all mothers who wished to protect their children from war. This plight became the leading motif in her work when she lost her son, Peter, to World War I. He was only 18 years old.

In Maria and Elisabeth, Kollwitz uses black-and-white contrasts to heighten the drama of the narrative and thus have a stronger effect on the viewer. The composition shows a tender moment between two expecting mothers, cocooned by the rounded edge of the background behind them, in which only their hands and heads are illuminated. These two figures are ultimately bound together forming a mountain, further suggesting their enduring strength and the willingness of mothers to protect their children.” –Rachel Sadvary Zebro

Above: David Bekker, Orphans’ Wedding, not dated. Etching. Gift of Mr. and Mrs Charles Louis Rosenthal. Courtesy of David Bekker Estate.

Each year, on February 14, Americans celebrate love and romance on the feast day of St. Valentine, which likely had its roots in a much older Roman holiday known as Lupercalia. But the idea of a day dedicated to love is not unique to the Christian tradition. Each summer, those of the Jewish faith celebrate all things romantic love on a holiday known as Tu B’Av, which translates to “the 15th of Av,” a month of the Jewish lunar calendar that corresponds to July/August. The day itself is sometimes referred to as Hag HaAhava, or the holiday of love, and usually features singing and dancing as in ancient times when unmarried women would don white dresses and dance and sing in the vineyards, marking the end of the grape harvest. Always falling on a full moon, Tu B’Av is, in contemporary Jewish life and particularly in Israel, also seen as an auspicious, or lucky, date for a Jewish couple to marry, a ceremony seen here in this print in the PhxArt Collection entitled Orphans’ Wedding (undated) by David Bekker, whose work was influenced by Jewish themes and traditions and the history of the Jewish people.

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