Margery Coffey
Portrait for Paula
Paula Modersohn-Becker [1876-1907]
from An Apple For My Teacher
Oil
36" x 36"
1992

 

Paula Modersohn-Becker was a brilliant artist whose work suffered in relative obscurity because it had been done with female hands like most of the women painters in history.  Had she been a man, she would have not only been encouraged, but also revered once her short life ended.  Added to that, Modersohn-Becker had the misfortune to have the bulk of her work fall on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain when the world had progressed far enough to "discover" her. Her short art career was buried by the Iron Curtain as most of her works fell into East German hands.

One of the first German Expressionists to grow out of the Impressionist's world, Modersohn-Becker focused on her inner feelings rather than nature for the expression of her art.  What has been seen of her art shows strongly the potent influence of CÚzanne and Gauguin as well as the Japanese art that was flooding Europe at the time she was painting.

The few Modersohn-Becker pieces that I have been privileged to see had all the power of Gauguin with all the femininity of Mary Cassatt.  What an unbelievably passionate combination!  The lucid beauty in her simplicity was astounding.  Her use of color was exquisite while her almost childlike shapes brought the exotic of Gauguin's Tahitian splendor into the ordinary surroundings of the contemporary Western home.

There had to be a connection between her work and that of Kathe Kollwitz.  Contemporaries in time and nationality, they had to have known of each other's work.  The same stark beauty that lies in Kollwitz forms is a part of Modersohn-Becker as well, only this time in full color as well as the soft textures.

I chose to do a self-portrait like many of Modersohn-Becker's works only instead of surrounding myself with nature, I placed the symbols of my craft instead.  It is a likeness of me, but it is also a portrait of my mother as well.  The division of the head into a free flowing side and a carefully controlled side is the war that lies within all women and especially artistically creative ones.  To flow with the feelings or to conform to the socially acceptable, the struggle within always shows even in the most simplified pictures.

 


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