Paula Modersohn-Becker (* 8 February 1876 in Dresden-Friedrichstadt; † 20 November 1907 in Worpswede) was a German painter. She is considered one of the most important representatives of early German Expressionism.
Paula Becker was born in Dresden in 1876 under the name “Minna Hermine Paula Becker”. At her parents’ request, Becker travels to England in 1892 to stay with her aunt. There she receives her first drawing lessons. In 1896, she took part in a course at the drawing and painting school of the Verein der Künstlerinnen und Kunstfreundinnen in Berlin. At that time, women were still not allowed to study at the art academy. This course was followed by one and a half years of training in painting in Berlin. During this time, drawing classes dominated, and it was not until 1897 that Becker switched to the painting class of the artist Jeanna Bauck.
Paula Becker in Worpswede and wedding with Otto Modersohn
After this training, Paula Becker moves to Worpswede. There she meets Fritz Mackensen, who teaches her from then on. She also makes the acquaintance of Otto Modersohn, her future husband. In 1899, a small artists’ colony is founded in Worpswede, including Fritz Overbeck, Heinrich Vogeler, and Clara Westhoff.
In 1900 Paula Becker travels to Paris for the first time. The works of the painter Vincent van Gogh made a lasting impression on her. In 1901, the painter marries the artist Otto Modersohn. The artist’s second stay in Paris followed in the spring of 1903. The figurative now gained more and more weight in her paintings. After returning from this trip, she largely withdrew and critically examined what she had created so far. Her art is free of glossed-over views of the life of the rural population. By reducing and simplifying the formal language, she achieves an increase in the expression of what she depicts. At times, her motifs shift entirely to the outdoors. In doing so, she reduces landscapes to their essential features.
Paula Modersohn-Becker in Paris
Inspired by the Parisian avant-garde, the artist traveled to Paris for a third time in 1905. There she attended a course in nude painting at the Académie Julien. The expressive works of Paul Gauguin in the Autumn Salon encouraged Modersohn-Becker in her creative work. The stay also encouraged her to devote more time to still life. Together with her husband, who comes to visit her in Paris, the artist finally travels to Hagen to meet the Osthaus couple and to visit the Folkwang Museum.
In 1906, she leaves Worpswede again to travel to Paris. She financed the trip partly from the proceeds of one of her works to the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Although Otto Modersohn is against this stay, he continues to support her financially. To further her education, Paula Modersohn-Becker begins attending various courses at the École des Beaux-Arts. During this time she painted many nudes and self-portraits. After a longer stay of her husband in Paris, the couple returned to Worpswede in 1907. In that year, her long-awaited wish comes true and she becomes pregnant. Shortly after the birth of her daughter, Paula Modersohn-Becker died of a pulmonary embolism on 20 November 1907.
Struggling for recognition and esteem throughout her life, the artist pursued her path quite unflinchingly. Starting from the rural idyll of her home, she moved from the motif of the peasant way of life to an expressive, hard-edged colourfulness in the chosen motifs of her still lifes and self-portraits. Posthumously, she finally attained the significance of a pioneer of German Expressionism.
1876 – Paula Becker was born in Dresden.
1892 – Stays with her aunt in England. There she receives her first drawing lessons.
1896 – Participation in a course at the drawing and painting school of the Association of Women Artists and Art Lovers in Berlin.
1898 – Moves to Worpswede. Friendship with Clara Westhoff, later Rainer Maria Rilke’s wife.
1900 – First trip to Paris. In September, Paula Becker becomes engaged to Otto Modersohn.
1901 – Marriage with Otto Modersohn.
1902 – The figurative gains more and more weight in her paintings. Intensive examination of her painting and reflections on colour and composition.
1903 – Second trip to Paris.
1904 – She withdraws from her Worpswede artist colleagues to a large extent, and critically examines what she has created so far.
1905 – Third trip to Paris. She takes a course in nude painting at the Académie Julien. She travels to Hagen with her husband and Heinrich Vogeler to meet the Osthaus couple and visit the Folkwang Museum.
1906 – Longer stay in Paris.
1907 – On 2 November, birth of daughter Matilde. On 20 November, Paula Modersohn-Becker dies of pulmonary embolism.