Sunday, September 8, 2013

Diane Radycki to sign her Paula Modersohn-Becker monograph on Tuesday, September 10th in Rizzoli's on 57th St, 5:30 - 7 pm

Please celebrate the publication of Paula Modernsohn-Becker: The First Modern Women Artist with its author Diane Radycki, director of the Payne Gallery and Associate Professor of Art History at Moravian College, on Tuesday, September 10th.  Professor Radycki will sign her fabulous book at Rizzoli Bookstore, 31 West 57th Street, from 5:30 pm to 7 pm.  (Click on this link to watch Professor Radycki lecture on Paula Modersohn-Becker's work.)

This new monograph is Radcyki's second book Modersohn-Becker.  Her first was the translation and annotation of PMB's letters. Four years ago Radycki published an article "Pictures of Flesh: Paula Modersohn-Becker and the Nude," in Women's Art Journal (Fall/Winter 2009), which now seems to be a preview of things to come.

Born on February 9, 1876 in Dresden, Paula Modersohn-Becker was the third child of seven born to the son of a university professor and the daughter of aristocrats. Her father worked for the railroad. In 1888, she moved with her family to Bremen, and in 1892, she took her first art lessons while visiting with an aunt in London.
After her trip to London, she completed her teacher-training studies and kept up with her art through private lessons (1893 to 1895). In 1896, she joined the Union of Berlin Women Artists. Two years later her life changed significantly. She moved in with a group of artists who resided in Worpswede, an artists' colony outside of Bremen. There she socialized with Fritz Mackensen (1866-1953), Henrich Vogeler (1872-1942) and Otto Modersohn (1865-1943). The sculptor Clara Westhoff (1875-1954) joined the group in 1899, and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) joined in 1900.
Paula and Clara became close friends. In 1900 they spent the first six months of the year together in Paris. Modersohn-Becker studied art at the Académie Colarossi and anatomy at the École des Beaux-Art. Westhoff studied sculpture with the great master Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Then they spent the summer together in Berlin.
Clara married Rainer on April 29, 1901; Paula married Otto on May 25, 1901. The Rilkes' only child, Ruth, was born in December 1901.
After a short period of estrangement, Paula and Clara reconciled in 1903, perhaps when Modernsohn-Becker spent February and March in Paris. Paula returned to Paris in 1905, again in February and March, and studied at the Académie Julian.
Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-Portrait with Amber Necklace, 1906
oil on canvas, 24 x 18 inches
Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, Bremen, Germany
In February 1906, Modersohn-Becker packed her bags in Worpsweder and stole out of the house, much like Nora Helmer in Ibsen's A Doll's House (1879), to start her new life outside of her nuclear family.  Filled with ambition (rather than Nora's shame), Paula wanted to establish her own identity. Her Self-Portrait with Amber Necklace (1906) is among the few nude self-portraits that would set her apart from her female contemporaries. Painting the self nude was unusual among male artists, but among women artists almost unheard of (even though the female nude dominated art from the Renaissance forward).  
Paula Modersohn-Becker, Otto Modersohn Sleeping, 1906.
Diane Radycki writes that the sexual relationship between Modersohn-Becker and her husband was not consummated until five years after their wedding day - just before Modersohn-Becker took off for Paris. The marriage might be considered one of convenience for Otto Modersohn, who had become a widow shortly after the birth of his daughter Elsbeth.  Once married to Paula, Otto would have a mother for his child and a wife to serve his needs.  Eventually, Paula wanted out.
In June 1906, Otto Modersohn spends a week in Paris to plead for his wife's return to Worpswede. They lived together in Paris in September, in October  and the winter of 1907.  In March Paula knew she was pregnant. In April she was back in Worpswede. Paula Modersohn-Becker gave birth to her daughter Matilde on November 2.  Eighteen days later, the artist died of an embolism.  She was 31 years old.

Rainer Maria Rilke's poem "Requiem for a Friend," written one year after Modersohn-Becker's death, expresses his grief. Perhaps Rilke was in love with Modersohn-Becker and his wife Clara Westhoff.
Modersohn-Becker's daughter Matilde (Tillie) established the Paula Modersohn-Becker Foundation in 1978.  Matilde passed away twenty years later. The Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum was opened in Bremen in 1927. In May 2005, Jenny Holzer (b. 1950) installed For Paula Modersohn-Becker in the museum. The Otto Modersohn Museum is located in Fischerhude.

Radycki's book Paula Modersohn-Becker: The First Woman Artist is breathtakingly beautiful from cover to cover, enhanced by this art historian's engaging prose which draws us into the world of modern art at the turn of the twentieth century.  Radycki speculates that Modersohn-Becker might have met Picasso at the artist Ignacio Zuloaga's studio at a party in late April 1906 (p. 144). We imagine PMB in Montmartre and Montparnasse, at the avant-garde salons and among her friends in rural Germany - bristling with radical notions of the "new art."

I cannot imagine that this heartbreaking story will bypass Hollywood.  With the right actress and screenplay, PMB's star will most certainly rise again - and soon.

Best wishes for the new year - l'chaim,
Beth New York

aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
New York Arts Exchange

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