In episode 58 of The Great Women Artists Podcast, Katy Hessel interviews the esteemed art historian, Diane Radycki, on the groundbreaking German Modernist PAULA MODERSOHN BECKER!!!
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And WOW, is this one of the most incredible stories in art history. A precursor to German Expressionism, Modersohn Becker was not only one of the first German artists to bring the intense and dazzling colours and brushstrokes to her home country, but the first woman artist in HISTORY to paint herself nude!!
Born in 1876, Modersohn Becker was raised in Bremen, attended art school in St John's Wood, London, went on to study at the traditional Society of Berlin Women Artists, and after spending a summer visiting the Worpswede art colony, settled with the group from 1898. However, she wasn't satisfied.
On the stroke of a new century, 1 January 1900, Modersohn Becker took a train heading for Paris, and it was here where she became enraptured by the French Modernists, their vibrant, fragmented forms. But most importantly, where she was exposed to drawing from the nude figure!
Taking up portraits and scenes of peasant life, Modersohn-Becker’s work exuded strong, sun-drenched intense colouring and dynamism, full of expression and emotion (in 1902 she recalled, ‘personal feeling is the main thing’). But having returned to Germany, during this time she was stifled by her marriage, sucked into Worpswede life and longing for Paris.
Retuning for the last time in 1906, she abandoned her life: ‘I have left Otto Modersohn and stand poised between my new life. What will it be like? And what will I be like in my new life? Now it is all about to happen.’
During spring and summer of 1906, Modersohn-Becker produced dozens of paintings. Predominantly self-portraits and portraits of un-idealised, unconventional, and un-sensual looking women, she filled with canvases with simplified flattened forms. Radickye makes the convincing case that Modersohn Becker was even the influence behind Picasso's Gertrude Stein!
Immersed in her life in Paris, attending exhibitions, Modersohn-Becker was enjoying life as a free woman. But having returned to Germany in 1907, where she was to give birth that October, aged 31, she died just a few days later, leaving behind over 700 paintings and 1000 drawings..
Don't miss this AMAZING story as told by Radickye – the woman responsible for MoMA's acquisition of a Self Portrait by Paula.
Katy Hessel: @thegreatwomenartists / @katy.hessel
Sound editing by Laura Hendry
Artwork by @thisisaliceskinner
Music by Ben Wetherfield