Paula Modersohn-Becker: The First Modern Woman Artist

Mary Ann Caws writes:

The story of Paula Modersohn-Becker is, according to Diane Radycki, ‘the missing piece in the history of 20th-century modernism’. This is a large claim, and the basis for it is Modersohn-Becker’s series of nude self-portraits, the first such works by a woman. Paula Becker grew up in Dresden until she was 12, when her family moved to the smaller, wealthy city of Bremen, where her father worked as a building and works inspector on the newly nationalised railway. Despite her father’s continual criticism of her ambitions (‘I don’t believe you will be a divinely inspired artist of the first rank’), when she was 16, in 1892, she was allowed to go to London, probably to St John’s Wood School of Art, for two months, and then to Berlin for two years, where she studied at the Association of Women Artists, concentrating on figure portraits and the nude. Back in Bremen during the vacations, she began visiting the artists’ colony at Worpswede, where she moved in September 1898 to study with Fritz Mackensen, who had cofounded the colony with Otto Modersohn.

(LRB 8 August 2013)

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