Biography

Paula Modersohn-Becker is one of the most important early German Expressionists. At the age of 12 her family moved from Dresden to Bremen. In 1896 her parents finally allowed her to pursue an art education at the Verein der Berlin Künstlerinnen (Berlin Society of Female Artists) as the art academy still refused entry to women at that time. In 1898 she moved to the artist colony Worpswede and married the painter Otto Modersohn in 1901. In 1907 she died of an embolism shortly after the birth of her much longed for daughter. Before that time she travelled frequently to Paris and made contact with the avantegarde. She was one of the first to recognize the importance of Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin’s art. Throughout the 20th century her work has been shown in numerous exhibitions. In 1927 the Paula Modersohn-Becker-Museum in Bremen was founded.

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Paula Modersohn-Becker was born Minna Hermine Paula Becker in Dresden in 1876; the family later moved to Bremen. She received her first drawing lessons at the age of sixteen and, at her father’s request, attended the teacher training seminar in Bremen, where she was able to continue taking lessons. She then took part in a course at the drawing and painting school of the Association of Berlin Women Artists and began her one-and-a-half-year training: portrait, nude and landscape classes. In 1899, some of her studies were shown at the Bremen Kunsthalle and received scathing reviews.

On New Year’s Eve at the turn of the century, Modersohn-Becker travelled to Paris for the first time. Here she studied old and new masters, attended exhibitions and painting and drawing classes. After a good six months, she returns to Worpswede and marries the painter Otto Modersohn. During this time, she mainly painted groups of figures in landscapes, sometimes together with Otto, and worked intensively on colour and composition. The apple tree against a bright sky dates from this period. In 1903, she travelled to Paris again for a few weeks, where she now mainly studied antiquity and visited Rodin’s studio – she would later attend the unveiling of his Thinker.

Back in Worpswede, she largely withdrew from her fellow painters and searched for new pictorial forms, which she prepared in her drawings. Modersohn-Becker is a loner and remains on the outside of the Worpswede painters, who are strictly attached to Impressionism, as is her husband Otto.

She travelled to Paris two more times and studied the more modern artists in detail, devoting herself increasingly to still lifes and large nude compositions. Four of her works are shown in an exhibition of Worpswede artists at the Bremen Kunsthalle, which Gustav Pauli defends and praises in an article with reference to the scathing criticism of a few years earlier. A few more figure paintings and still lifes are created. Paula’s daughter Mathilde was born on 2 November 1907, and a few days later, on 20 November, Paula Modersohn-Becker died as a result of the birth.

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