How are Frida Kahlo and Kathe Kollwitz related?

Short answer: Both were the names of de facto leaders of the Guerilla Girls.

Sorry in advance if I don’t post as regularly for the next few days – I am currently in the middle of residency interviews!

Dr. Finger’s Waiting Room. Alice Neel. Source: Christie’s

I wrote about the Guerilla Girls and the art market a few days ago. Today, I was listening to the newest Freakonomics episode discussing the art market. In it, they discussed the phenomenal rise in the auction prices of Alice Neel (1900-1984), a portraitist of everyday people. Although she was somewhat well-regarded in her own lifetime, Neel’s Communist leanings, expressionist style, and progressive subject matter never lead to any great financial success. One dealer even remembered finding two of her works on the sidewalk. Today the price and total sales of her work have risen astronomically. Her works have now sold for up to millions of dollars – including her Dr. Finger’s Waiting Room which sold in 2021 for $3.5 million. The Met just put on a large retrospective of her work- which was probably further boosted the value of her paintings.

Total Sales of Alice Neel works. Source: Artnet

From my reading a few days ago, I remembered that Alice Neel was a pseudonym used by some of the Guerilla Girls. She was also listed on the When Racism And Sexism Are No Longer Fashionable poster! The conclusion of the folks interviewed on the Freakonomics podcast is that most people in the art market don’t make any money (as most lion’s share of sales go to just a few artists). However, the example of Alice Neel suggests that strategic investments in artists overlooked for their progressive views or subject matter might still yield value. One decent way might be to look at the names of the Guerilla Girls, especially the ones less well known to the general public.

Frida Kahlo in Coco. Source: Disney Fan Club

Frida Kahlo is of course far too well known. But Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945) could still be an underappreciated gem. Kollwiz was born in an era when women were denied access to art academies; instead, she learned from schools for women artists. Her first big break was “A Weavers’ Uprising” which was almost awarded a prestigious national prize until a personal veto by Kaiser Wilhelm II himself. This cycle of works depicted Gerhart Hauptmann’s play The Weavers (not to be confused with the folk group targeted during the Red Scare), a sympathetic portrayal of the uprising of Silesian weavers during the advent of the Industrial Revolution in Germany. Kollwitz wouldn’t look back, with her work focusing on poverty, hunger, and other social ills.

March of the Weavers, Käthe Kollwitz | Mia
March of the Weavers. Kathe Kollwitz. Source

Kollwitz became the first woman elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts and gained international recognition in her lifetime. Unfortunately towards the end of her life, her works were largely censored by the Nazis as Degenerate Art and removed from museums. Nonetheless, she persisted in making pacifist art, and to this day she has remained very well known in Germany (there are 4 museums, 40 schools, and even a Google Doodle in Germany in her honor). In the broader art community though, Kollwitz is still relatively undervalued. Per artnet:

Today, art’s status as a viable form of protest and resistance is being critically challenged more rigorously than it has been for a long time, but so far, Kollwitz has been strangely absent from this discussion. Unlike similarly politically progressive and articulate artists like Corita Kent (1918–1986) and Alice Neel (1900–1984), or Kollwitz’s coeval, the American painter Florine Stettheimer (1871–1944), the familiar art-world dynamic of obscurity, rediscovery, and reevaluation doesn’t seem to be so easily set in motion for Kollwitz.

Some of her work seems to be selling for more now with her most expensive artwork, Selbstbildnis en face, selling for a little under $800,000. Still, I feel like her subject matter should lend itself to more growth in years to come…

Mother with her Dead Son 01.jpg
Mother with Dead Child. Kathe Kollwitz. Source

Final note: For what it’s worth, Freakonomics also mentioned that there were perhaps 100,000 art advisors in the world, the vast majority of which are “art history majors that have not made a single sale.” And I don’t even have a degree in art history…



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