Kollwitz was captivated by the idea of female revolutionaries and was intrigued by the story of "Black Anna," the leader of a widespread peasant rebellion in the 16th century. When creating preparatory drawings for The Peasants' War (Bauernkrieg) series, which depicted the historic revolt, the artist even used her own likeness as a model for Anna. Outbreak, one of the original prints Kollwitz and the 5th plate designed for the series, portrays Black Anna as a solitary woman, inciting the peasants to defend themselves and their families.
It is a forward-thinking reinterpretation of female agency in revolutionary times. Eugène Delacroix's 1830 Liberty Leading the People comes to mind, in which the personification of liberty is a woman who leads men and boys of various social classes towards freedom, stepping over the bodies of those who sacrificed themselves for the cause. However, Delacroix's woman is an idealized figure who leads with her sexuality and motherhood, with her breasts inexplicably bared and placed centrally in the composition, and her profile resembling a classicized prettiness. In contrast, Kollwitz maintains the female peasant's agency in Outbreak. Black Anna's back faces the viewer, as the woman's focus is on the peasants leading the charge, rather than on the need to display herself. She is dressed plainly as a peasant, projecting strength, solidity, and righteous anger through her posture, raised, bent arms, and clenched fists. Her body tilts, guiding the rebels forward. The emotional rhythm of print subverts naturalism here, with frenetic lines and low, elongated, diagonally oriented bodies underscoring the rush, energy, and collective drive of the peasants in their uprising.
This piece, submitted to the Association for Historical Art, prompted the Association to commission Kollwitz to create an extended print series based on the Peasant War, and she subsequently added six more etchings to produce a total of seven prints on the subject.