Paula Modersohn-Becker, Tête d’une jeune fille blonde coiffée d’un chapeau de paille[Head of a young blonde girl wearing a straw hat], ca 1904, tempera on cardboard, 27 x 33.5 cm, Kunst- und Museumsverein, Wuppertal, © Medienzentrum, Antje Zeis-Loi / Kunst-und Museumsverein, Wuppertal
French people finally have a chance to discover the major oeuvre of a great German artist, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907).
Paula Modersohn-Becker, Autoportrait au sixième anniversaire de mariage [Self-portrait on the sixth wedding anniversary], 1906, tempera on cardboard, 101.8 x 70.2 cm , Museen Böttcherstrasse, Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, Brême, © Paula-Modersohn-Becker-Stiftung, Brême
Little known in France, even though she produced a large part of her oeuvre during her four stays in the capital, through portraits of children, mainly little girls, nude pregnant women, and nude self-portraits, Modersohn-Becker glorified a representation of women beyond any male desire.
After training in Berlin, in 1898 she set up home in the artistic community of Worpswede, where she met the painter Otto Modersohn. Looking for new sources of inspiration, she went to Paris. It was there, under the influence of Cézanne and Gauguin, that she developed her own pictorial language, a quest for the essential, and a great simplicity of forms and colours.
Paula Modersohn-Becker, Autoportrait à la branche de camélia [Self-portrait with the camellia branch], 1906-1907, tempera on cardboard, 61.5 x 30.5 cm, Museum Folkwang, Essen, © Paula-Modersohn-Becker-Stiftung, Brême
In the Louvre, during her second stay in Paris, in 1903, she discovered the Fayum Egyptian funereal or mummy portraits. Fascinated, she borrowed their composition and technique to produce magnificent self-portraits, which were remarkable for their frontal presentation, very tight framing, and wide open eyes. But the artist’s major piece is Autoportrait au sixième anniversaire de marriage [Self-portrait on the sixth wedding anniversary] (1906). In what was her first nude female self-portrait, breaking every taboo, she depicted herself half-naked, with her belly round as if pregnant, although she had not yet been pregnant. She became so shortly thereafter, and it was fatal: she died at the age of 31, 18 days after the birth of her daughter. Modersohn-Becker’s work was little shown during her lifetime, and she sold just three pictures, one of which was acquired by her friend Rainer Maria Rilke.
At Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris (France), from 8 April to 21 August 2016.