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Paula Modersohn-Becker: The Unknown Expressionist

Artists' Stories

Paula Modersohn-Becker: The Unknown Expressionist

Some time ago, while writing an article about moustaches in paintings, I came across a fascinating German Expressionist who was not part of the famous Die Brucke group. All the more, this painter was a woman which in the art world, which was the environment dominated by men, was quite unusual. I decided to explore her story. Paula Modersohn-Becker, the Expressionist!

A Pioneer

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-portrait, 1906, Collection of Ludwig Roselius, paula modersohn-becker expressionist

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-portrait, 1906, Collection of Ludwig Roselius

Paula Modersohn-Becker should unmistakably be considered one of the pioneers of European modern art. The simplicity of form is juxtaposed with the distinctive surface texture achieved by means of the relief-like modelling and by scratching into the wet paint.

A student

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Old Peasant Woman, c.1905, The Detroit Institute of Arts

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Old Peasant Woman, c.1905, The Detroit Institute of Arts


Becker had already established her own unique style at the beginning of her career, when in 1898 she moved to Worpswede, a village north of Bremen, to study under the painter Fritz Mackensen, the founder of the Worpswede artists’ colony. It was there where she met Heinrich Vogeler, Clara Westhoff, Rainer Maria Rilke and Otto Modersohn, whom she married in 1901.

A mother

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Reclining Mother and Child, undated, Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Reclining Mother and Child, undated, Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum

Becker is largely famous for her insightful portraits for which she selected local children, old women or farmers’ wives. In 1900 she travelled to Paris and in 1905 she discovered works of Cezanne and Gauguin, and since then she started using bright and strong colours and distinctive contours. She stayed in Paris until 1907 when she returned to Worpswede. Sadly, she died the same year of an embolism which followed the birth of her daughter.

A star

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Old Woman in the Garden, 1906, Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Old Woman in the Garden, 1906, Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum


Paula has her own museum which you can find in Bremen, Germany. It was the first museum in the world to be dedicated to the work of a female painter! The building was designed by the architect Bernhard Hoetger, and it is considered one of the most important examples of Expressionist architecture in Germany; it was opened in 1927 as a museum.

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Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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