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5 Facts About Paula Modersohn-Becker, The Rebellious Female Artist
She was actually the first woman to paint a naked self-portrait...
Art Girls Jungle 18 Aug 2018

Paula Modersohn-Becker, a German painter who had a rather brief career in introducing the styles of late 19th century Post-Impressionism through her artworks originally born as Paula Becker in Dresden.

She was rather under-appreciated, was actually the first woman to paint a naked self-portrait without thinking so much about certain restrictions and expectations towards European women back then. On Paula Modersohn-Becker’s 142nd birthday, Google honored the German female artist whose artworks revolved mostly around women and nudes, by featuring her on their Google Doodle last February 2018.

Paula Becker fighting her ambitions, her parents and Otto Modersohn
Tecklenburg Otto Modersohn Museum

Paula Modersohn-Becker was actually forced by her parents to complete a two-year teachers’ training program before she was allowed to pursue her studies at the school for women artists in Berlin. They wanted Paula Becker to be a teacher and go on with her wifely duties. When she was 18, she joined an artist colony in Worpswede, northern Germany, where she met her future husband, Otto Modersohn.

Paula Becker decided to move to Paris to learn more about modern art and pursue her passion and ambition in paintings. When she got engaged to Otto Modersohn, her parents sent her to a cooking school for two months before she could get married to Modersohn, but of course, she fought them back.

Otto Modersohn only followed Paula Becker to Paris once his then wife passed away. However, their marriage was not a happy one. Otto Modersohn did not fancy Becker’s paintings nor her housekeeping skills. At the age of 30, Paula Modersohn-Becker left her husband and had an affair. Not long after the separation, they reunited and became closer than ever.

A short time spent between Paula Modersohn-Becker and her daughter

In 1906, Paula Modersohn-Becker managed to create 80 artworks. Unfortunately she passed away when she was 31 of an embolism and heart attack, just 18 days after giving birth to her only daughter and after a short-time of having the joy of being reunited with her husband and being a mom.

The labor took two days and Paula Becker had to stay in bed for 18 days afterwards. Once she was healthy, her family threw a small party for her and she was very excited to dress up. But then the moment Paula got out of bed, she collapsed and died from a pulmonary embolism.

Paula Modersohn-Becker’s nude self-portrait artwork

Self-portrait was also one of the most painted artworks made by Paula Modersohn-Becker. In 1906, on her sixth wedding anniversary with Otto Modersohn, she made a self-portrait painting of herself; half nude, looking pregnant.

Ironically, Paula Modersohn-Becker was not actually pregnant yet when she created this particular artwork. Not long after she painted this nude self-portrait, she got pregnant. However, she had just left Otto Modersohn that time, left Germany and went back to Paris.

“Now I have left Otto Modersohn, I stand between my old life and my new one. What will happen in my new life? And how shall I develop in my new life? Everything must happen now.”

Wrote her when she arrived in Paris. It is safe to say that Paula Becker tried to paint a metaphor on this nude self-portrait painting; creating the independent life she always wanted — giving birth to her new self.

During her whole life, Paula Modersohn-Becker only sold three paintings. She once wrote, “I’m doing what nobody else has done; I’m seeing it, I’ve got it.” which made her known as one of the most important artists of early expressionism.

People still wonder what would happen if she had lived longer than just 31 years; a bold and unconventional female artist who could have done more to bring more refreshing changes to the art world by breaking more norms. At that time, Paula Becker’s rather contemporary paintings were seen as something taboo and unusual. If she had not passed away that day, she would have pursued her art career in Italy.

The Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum

Paula Modersohn-Becker’s artworks were only recognised long after she had died. In the 1920s, her letters and diaries were published in Europe and her name along with her artworks started to gain attention.

The Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum was created and opened in 1927 in her honor in Bremen, Germany. It was the first museum in the world that was dedicated to a female artist. Despite the fact that the Nazis attacked her arts and declared them as degenerating arts, The Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum that features her whole career as a female artist lived on.

In 2007, Paula Becker’s studio and house in Bremen were turned into a private art museum and gallery. Paula Modersohn-Becker’s artworks were also showcased at the Bucerius Kunst Forum, an international exhibition centre in Hamburg, Germany in the spring of 2017.

The solo exhibition that was called “Paula Modersohn-Becker: Pioneer of Modern Art” featured 80 artworks of Paula Becker that was rather confusing and rebellious during her lifetime, but recognised as revolutionary and groundbreaking today.

A biopic about Paula Becker, portrayed by Carla Juri

What interesting is, Paula Modersohn-Becker kept all her thoughts, ideas and experiences in her journals and diaries, which were turned into a book. In 2016, Paula Becker’s life was turned into a German biopic called “Paula – Mein Leben soll ein Fest sein” directed by Christian Schwochow.


The loving Paula Modersohn-Becker was portrayed by Carla Juri in the “Paula” film. Schwochow said that he took his time properly in casting his leading actress to act as Paula Modersohn-Becker in this film produced by Pandora film.

Photos via artnet, brooklynmuseum, moviepilot, imdb 

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