The Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris is presenting France's first monographic exhibition of the work of Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907). Little known to the French public, she is nonetheless a major modern art figure.
Despite a brief career – a mere ten years – this artist has left us an extremely rich legacy, revealed in this exhibition by some one hundred paintings and drawings. In addition, excerpts from letters and diaries provide an understanding of the intimate link between her art and her personal life.
After training in Berlin, Paula Modersohn-Becker joined the artists' colony at Worpswede in northern Germany, but soon left to seek inspiration elsewhere. Fascinated by Paris and the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century, she stayed there often and got to know the artists she admired, among them Rodin, Cézanne, Gauguin, Douanier Rousseau, Picasso and Matisse.
Uncompromisingly modern and ahead of her time, Modersohn-Becker displays a boldly personal aesthetic. If her subjects – including self- portraits, mothers and children, landscapes and still lives – are typical of the period, her way of addressing them is eminently original. Her works stand out for a powerfully expressive use of color, extreme sensitivity and an astonishing capacity to capture the very essence of her models. A number of her paintings considered excessively avant-garde were included in the "Degenerate Art" exhibition organized by the Nazis in Munich in 1937.
In numerous self-portraits Modersohn-Becker asserts her identity as a woman, portraying herself intimately and without complacency in an ongoing quest for her inner being. All her life she was close to the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and their correspondence and a number of paintings are fascinating testimony to this friendship. Rilke paid tribute to her in the poem "Requiem for a Friend", written after the artist's death at the age of thirty-one.
Writer Marie Darrieussecq brings a literary eye to Modersohn-Becker's work with contributions to both the exhibition and the catalogue. She is also the author of the artist's first biography in French, Être ici est une splendeur, Vie de Paula M. Becker (Éditions P.O.L, 2016).