Paula Modersohn-Becker


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(b Dresden, 8 Feb. 1876; d Worpswede, 20 Nov. 1907).

German painter, born Paula Becker. In 1898 she joined the artists' colony at Worpswede and in 1901 she married OttoModersohn (1865–1943), another member of the group. Her early work—mainly landscapes and scenes of peasant life—was in the lyrical, rather sentimental manner associated with Worpswede at this time, but she developed a massively powerful style through which she expressed a highly personal vision of the world. Her artistic evolution was influenced by four visits she made to Paris between 1900 and her early death in 1907. The work of Gauguin and van Gogh in particular helped her to find the ‘great simplicity of form’ for which she had been searching, and in her mature work she concentrated on single figures, including self-portraits and portraits of peasants. In her self-portraits she typically shows herself with wide, staring eyes and often in the nude. Although she had a weak physical constitution, she worked with great discipline and perseverance, and in a career that lasted only a decade she produced a substantial output of paintings and drawings as well as a few etchings. She died of a heart attack three weeks after giving birth to her first child. She was little known at the time of her death (she had sold only a handful of pictures), but is now regarded as one of the outstanding German artists of her time. Her symbolic use of colour and pattern, her subjective outlook (she wrote that ‘the principal thing is my personal feeling’), and the almost primitive force of some of her work give her a place among the most important precursors of Expressionism.

Subjects: Art.

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