Summary of Paula Modersohn-Becker
Talented, rebellious, and utterly honest, Paula Modersohn-Becker's groundbreaking life and work expose the scandalous restrictions imposed on women at the turn of the twentieth century, in turn sowing a primary seed for radical change. Inspired stylistically by the Post-Impressionists, Modersohn-Becker's starting point was simple, seeking to investigate, learn from, and to elevate everyday life, with a particular focus on female experience. Painting un-idealized and therefore revolutionary pictures of girls, older ladies, and new mothers she stands as a pioneer exploring transitions of age and maternal identity. Luckily leaving behind a vast correspondence with artist friends and many diary entries, we are given a valuable insight into a woman's desire to be respected in her multiplicity. Sadly killed by the role of being a mother that she was intent on re-envisioning, Modersohn-Becker's last word was schade ("what a pity"), as she died entirely too early, shortly after giving birth.
- Modersohn-Becker had a life-long love for life drawing and the nude anatomy. By repeatedly painting her own nude self-portrait, she broke down long-standing gender barriers. In order to draw from life she was drawn back and forth to the city of Paris whilst her husband remained living in Germany. She therefore championed independence and proposed an unabashed, alternative way of living for married women.
- Although the subject had previously been discussed in memoirs and literature, Paula Modersohn-Becker was the first person to make the state of pregnancy visible. Today, it is a common occurrence to see the pregnant body in art and in the media, but at the beginning of the twentieth century this was utterly unheard of. She not only highlighted pregnancy as a complex psychological state, but also exposed breast-feeding as another profound and important topic, previously wholly overlooked.
- The idea that Modersohn-Becker's life and art were entirely intertwined is highlighted by her attraction and time spent living with the community at Worpswede. There are various examples of living more communally and artistically that punctuate history (The Bloomsbury Group being the English equivalent). Involvement with such groups provides networks of support and contacts, which in the case of Modersohn-Becker resulted in successful promotion of her work and more exhibitions during the early stages of her career.
- Suppression that Modersohn-Becker experienced at home was sadly in line with a darker suppression of the highest order. Whilst her husband commented of his wife's later portraits, "Her vision is so lacking in femininity and so vulgar...", this was the same stance that Adolf Hitler took in 1937 when he included Modersohn-Becker's work in his Degenerate Art Exhibition. The parallel highlights the sad fact that in their refusal to remain indifferent or to practice blind acceptance, "truth tellers" often pose great threat to the appearance of domestic and political order.
Biography of Paula Modersohn-Becker
This photograph captures a rare moment of unified embrace between Paula Modersohn-Becker and her artist husband, Otto, in a relationship more often remembered for its divisions.