Recognized now as one of the most significant female painters of the early 20th century, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907) studied at the Berlin School of Art for Women. She then moved in 1898 to Worpswede, an artist community near Bremen in northern Germany. After a scathing review of her art paintings at a 1899
Paula Modersohn Becker. Self-Portrait with an Amber Necklace. 1906. Oil on canvas, 24″ by 19 3/4″. Offentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, Kunstmuseum, Switzerland.
art exhibition, Modersohn-Becker retreated from Germany’s public art scene. Her style of painting – simple, primitive renderings of landscapes and people – was not understood by fellow Worpswede painters (including her husband, the painter Otto Modersohn), so she travelled to Paris for exposure to modern art and post-Impressionist paintings.
The influences are handily apparent – Modersohn-Becker was struck by the art paintings of Paul Cezanne (see Still Life with Goldfish), Henri Matisse (look a second time), and, as seen in Self Portrait with an Amber Necklace, by Paul Gauguin.
It was rare at the time to execute a nude self-portrait, so Modersohn-Becker is dramatically asserting her confidence as both a female painter and as a woman. But she is not the eroticized and passive woman popular during and since Renaissance art. Instead,
Modersohn-Becker presents a self-assured woman, a fertility goddess and a natural being, entwined with nature like the vines behind her.
Paula Modersohn Becker. Still Life with Goldfish. Oil on canvas, 1906.
She tenderly holds two flowers that echo the color and shape of her breasts. A halo is formed with this pair of flowers and those in the vines and on her head. Her amber necklace, resembling a lei seen on Gauguin’s women, repeats this circular motif.
Tragically, Modersohn-Becker died at the age of 31 shortly after childbirth. In her seven years as an artist, she produced over 700 paintings and 1,000 drawings – remarkable, considering she had no recognition from the art world or fellow artists.
Now, Modersohn-Becker is recognized in art history for helping shape the transition from the Symbolism of Gauguin to German Expressionism, and — belatedly– as one of the most famous female artists of the 20th century.
Paula Modersohn-Becker. Year unknown.