Käthe Kollwitz, née Schmidt, was born in Konigsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia), to a prosperous artisan family. Recognizing her artistic talent, her parents arranged art lessons for her when she was a teenager. She attended The Berlin School of Art and then the Women's Art School in Munich. In 1890, she returned to Konigsberg and rented her first art studio. A year later, she married Dr. Karl Kollwitz, a physician to whom she had been engaged since he was a medical student. The couple settled in one of the poorest sections of the city. There Kollwitz developed the strong social conscience that was reflected in her work. She was influenced by the artist Max Klinger and the writings of Emile Zola, as well as by the suffering of workers and her husband's patients. She produced etchings, lithographs, drawings, and woodcuts. Her first public success came when her portfolio entitled A Weavers’ Revolt (1895–1898), inspired by the Gerhard Hauptmann play Die Weber, was shown at the Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung. She was appointed to a special teaching post at the Künstlerinnenschule.
In 1904, on a trip to Paris, she visited to the Académie Julian, where she learned the basic principles of sculpture. She became the first woman elected to the Prussian Academy but because of her socialist beliefs, she was expelled from the academy on the rise of the Nazi regime in 1933. She was harassed and threatened by the Nazis, who classified her art as "degenerate" and forbid her to exhibit it. Her home was bombed during World War II, and she moved to Moritzburg, a town near Dresden, where she lived her final months. In 1986, the private Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum opened in Berlin as a permanent home for a major portion of her complete works.