“I am Me, and hope to become this more and more.”

Paula Modersohn-Becker(1876-1907) to Rainer Maria Rilke 1906

Paula and Otto Modersohn with Elsbeth, May/June 1907

I was lucky to be in Bremen, Germany yet again in November of 2019 just in time to see the newest exhibit of woman artist Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portraits at the museum dedicated to her there in the Museen Böttcherstrasse.

Read the original NWW piece on Modersohn-Becker, Women and Ambition, and the follow up, Degenerate Art.

What a fortuitous opportunity it was to be there while this exhibit was showing. So many paintings I had never seen, in a book or in a museum, were on display, many of them from private collections.

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-Portrait with a red rose @1905, private collection

 

For those who do not know, in 1906, Modersohn-Becker “created the first nude self-portrait by a woman in the history of art” (exhibit brochure). Her work is ground breaking and world making, yet remains unknown to most.

 

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-Portrait, front view, 1897/98

>>Ich bin allein und habe mich einmal wieder gepinselt<< “I am alone and sketched myself again.”

~Paula Modersohn-Becker in a letter, 1898

Paula Modersohn-Becker 1906

What was so fabulous about this particular exhibit was to be able to see the breadth of self-portraits that she completed and some of the photos she took of herself to work from. This was exceptional for a woman of that time. This display of conscious intention contributes to the understanding that Modersohn-Becker was deliberate and ambitious about what she set out to do. She accomplished it effectively.

Paula Modersohn-Becker: Self-Portrait as standing nude with hat, summer 1906

 

>>Ich fühle mich erstarken und weiss, dass ich durch den Berg hindurchkomme und darüber hinweg<< “I feel stronger and I know that I can get through the mountain and over it.” ~ Paula Becker in a letter, 1900

 

The paintings are alive and stunning. They are a conversation, an intimate experience with the mind and psyche of the artist.

Paula Modersohn-Becker: Self-Portrait with Camellia Branch 1906/07 Museum Folkwang,Essen

 

>>Stirn, Augen, Mund, Nase, Wangen, Kinn, das ist alles. Es klingt so einfach und ist doch so sehr, sehr viel<<“Forehead, eyes, mouth, nose, cheeks, chin, that’s all. It sounds so simple and yet it is so very, very much.” ~ Paula Becker, 1903

 

 Thanks to the excellent camera on my new phone, I am able to include some of my favorite paintings from the exhibit here.

Paula Modersohn-Becker: Self-Portrait in front of window with view of Parisian Houses, 1900

 

I was intrigued by the very large hands in many of these self-portraits. Without doing any research as to the interpretations of others, I feel they are symbols of power. The power of the hands of a woman. The power of Paula’s hands as she created these images, the power to say so much, with the hands.

 

Paula Modersohn-Becker: Self-portrait with lemon, 1906/07

 

>>Und nun weissich garnicht wie ich mich nterschreiben soll. Ich bin nicht Modersohn und ich bin auch nicht mehr Paula Becker, Ich bin Ich, und hoffer es immer mehr zu weden. Das ist wohl das Endziehl von allem unsern Ringen<< “And now I don’t know how to rewrite myself. I am not Modersohn and I am not Paula Becker anymore, I am Me, and hope to become more and more. This is probably the end goal of all our wrestling.” ~Paula Becker to Rainer Maira Rilke, 1906

 

Paula Modersohn-Becker: Self-Portrait in front of a landscape with trees, @1903

 

I was even able to create my own self-portrait in a room set up by the museum.

Theresa’s self-portrait at the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum

 

~Theresa C Dintino 2019