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Artists’ Birthdays: February the 8th – Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876)

February 8, 2012

Would you like to know it all? We would! That’s why the theme for our Know It All Section for 2012 is Artists’ Birthdays. We hope that these posts will help to increase our and your knowledge in Art History. Lets get acquainted with more painters, lets recognise their artwork and be inspired by the masterpieces!

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Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876 - 1907)

Paula Modersohn-Becker (February 8, 1876 – November 21, 1907) was a German painter and one of the most important representatives of early expressionism. In a brief career, cut short by an embolism at the age of 31, she created a number of groundbreaking images of great intensity.

I must admit I was never into expressionism, it’s not my cup of tea, but this time, when I first looked at Paula’s paintings, I was very impressed with her very distinct portraits. I was also amazed when I discovered how many artworks this artist managed to create in probably less than 10 years of her creative life. Well, it’s just such a sad story – to die in your early 30s and not to see your daughter growing up…

Paula Becker was born and grew up in Dresden-Friedrichstadt. She was raised in a big family (seven children) by her mother, who came from an aristocratic family and father, who was the son of a Russian university professor. This meant that all of their children were growing up in a cultured and intellectual environment.

Mädchenbildnis by Paula Modersohn-Becker (1905)

In 1888 the whole family moved from Dresden to Bremen, where after being introduced to drawing by her aunt in London, in 1893–1895 Paula got some training by a professional teacher. Later on  she took private instruction in painting and in 1896 participated in a course for painting and drawing sponsored by the “Verein der Berliner Künstlerinnen” (Union of Berlin Female Artists) which offered art studies to women.

A Girl’s Head in Front of a Window by Paula Modersohn-Becker (1906)

At the age of 22, she encountered the artistic community of Worpswede. In this “village”, artists had retreated to protest against the domination of the art academy and life in the big city; no wonder their main subjects were the life of the farmers and the northern German landscape. At this point in her life Paula began close friendships with the sculptor Clara Westhoff and the famous poet Rainer Maria Rilke. She also fell in love during this period, and in 1901 married a fellow Worpswede painter – Otto Modersohn. Marrying Otto, who was a widower, she also became a stepmother to Otto’s daughter Elsbeth Modersohn.

Between 1900 and 1907, Paula made several extended trips to Paris for artistic purposes, sometimes even living separately from her husband, Otto. She visited contemporary exhibitions often, and was particularly intrigued with the work of Paul Cézanne. Other post impressionists were especially influential too, including Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.

Self-portrait, Pregnant by Paula Modersohn-Becker

In her last trip to Paris in 1906, she produced a body of paintings from which she felt very great excitement and satisfaction. During this period Paula produced her initial nude self-portraits (something surely unprecedented by a female painter) and portraits of friends (Rainer Maria Rilke and Werner Sombart). Some critics consider this period of her art production to be the strongest and most compelling.

Still-life by Paula Modersohn-Becker

In 1907 Paula finally returned to her husband in Worpswede. Their relationship, which had been particularly strained in 1906, had taken a turn towards improvement and Paula’s long-lived wish to conceive and bear a child was fulfilled. Her daughter Mathilde (Tillie) Modersohn was born on November 2, 1907. Paula and Otto were very happy, but sadly soon their joy became overshadowed by a tragedy – Paula Modersohn-Becker died suddenly in Worpswede on November 20 from an embolism.

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In 1908, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote the renowned poem, “Requiem for a Friend”, in Paula’s memory. The very long poem was born of the imprint that Paula’s life, death and friendship left upon Rilke. Here’s just a few lines I liked the most:

…I’ll remember you, as you placed yourself

within the mirror, deep within and far from all.”

Information found on Wikipedia and Poetry in Translation.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2012 1:57 pm

    Hi – thanks for visiting my blog. Yours is fabulous and your work is stunning. I especially like the little piece on your ‘About’ page regarding the value of a handmade ceramic dish! Well said! Will be back for more. Good luck with all your plans. xC

  2. mhanle permalink
    February 8, 2012 9:09 pm

    This was an very interesting post!

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