Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Nothing like getting to the end of a long day and finding a painting that looks a bit like you feel (at least I hope I don't look like this). Isn't it haunting and beautiful in its simplicity? It's called The Old Farmer (1903)

I had never heard of Paula Modersohn-Becker. Apparently, she found her initial inspiration at the artists' colony of Worpswede near her family home in Bremen. The emphasis at the colony was to look to convey simple, humanistic values; often farmers or mothers with children were subjects that interested the colony artists.

She took classes there and moved to the colony to live and work, but eventually went to Paris on 4 different occasions to study and see the work of other artists. She chose the first date of her departure for Paris symbolically - the last day of 1899. In Paris she met Rodin, took in all that was happening in the world of French art, and came away impressed by the work of Gauguin, Van Gogh, Vuillard, and Cezanne.

What do you think? Do you like those buttons as much as I do? And those shoulders that seem so narrow but are at such an interesting angle; are they coming forward or not? There is something resigned but also strong about this woman. With her head so close to the top of the frame, she seems to be pushing out from her boundaries.

According to an interesting site (Galerie St. Etienne in NY), Modersohn-Becker's work did not receive much attention until the 1950s. Her life was very short - she died in 1907 at the age of 31. The cause was cardiac embolism which occurred just a few weeks after giving birth to her first child.


  1. I appreciate this post because I am completely unfamiliar with Paula Modersohn-Becker. She was a contemporary of a German artist whom I am familiar with, Käthe Kollwitz. The first work I ever saw by her was the very moving statue of a mother and her dead child in the center of the memorial to victims of war and tyranny in Berlin. There is also a Käthe Kollwitz museum that is well worth the visit in one of the lovelier neighborhoods of Berlin.

    I see through google searchest hat Modersohn-Becker and Kollwitz have been featured together in exhibitions (including at the Galerie St. Etienne that you mention), but do not know if they knew each other or what if any relationship they may have had. Do you know?

  2. From An Intimate Distance: Women, Artists, and the Body, by Rosemary Betterton:

    "The two artists, Kathe Kollwitz and Paula Modersohn-Becker had much in common. They were born (in 1867 and 1876 respectively) within a decade of each other in the northern German cities of Koningsberg and Dresden, in the former state of Prussia. They were brought up within liberal bourgeois families and received their training at women's art schools in Berlin and Munich, each achieving some measure of professional independence bhy the turn of the century. They moved in similar progressive circles . . . There is no evidence, however, that they ever met or even knew of each other's work."

  3. Taken together, those buttons are a symbol of her disappointment and exhaustion. Your eye can't help following their descent.

  4. Mojavehicular:

    Love your mentioning the directed momentum of the moving eye to evoke emotion -- wow!

    I was thinking of the poetic feeling coming from rhythmic stress on variation on circle: head, fingernails, eyes . . . reprising the musical buttons!

    I also appreciate how the surface she leans on, leans into flat verticality, like her, on the left.

    Suzanne, thanks for sharing! Uplifting, even when humanely downcast . . . and goodness knows I feel this way at times.

  5. Thank you, Bill (mojavehicular) for researching the connection between Kollwitz and Modersohn-Becker. And Lorenzo, the post of December 11 includes a photo of the Kollwitz memorial you saw in Berlin. I have a feeling the photo doesn't do it justice. Beth, thank you for your insight about how the surface she leans on disappears into verticality on the left while there is a sense of depth on the right.