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Paula Modersohn-Becker (February 8, 1876 – November 21, 1907) was a German painter and one of the most important representatives of early expressionism. In a brief career, cut short by an embolism at the age of 31, she created a number of groundbreaking images of great intensity.
Paula Becker was born and grew up in Dresden-Friedrichstadt. She was the third child of seven children in her family. Her father who was the son of a Russian university professor, was employed with the German railway. He and Modersohn-Becker's mother, who was from an aristocratic family, provided the children a cultured and intellectual environment in the house hold.
In 1888 her parents moved from Dresden to Bremen. While visiting an aunt in London, England, she received her first instruction in drawing. Apart from her teacher's training in Bremen in 1893-1895, Paula took private instruction in painting. In 1896 she participated in a course for painting and drawing sponsored by the "Verein der Berliner Künstlerinnen" (Union of Berlin Female Artists) which offered art studies to women.
At the age of 22, she encountered the artistic community of Worpswede. In this "village", artists such as Fritz Mackensen (1866-1953) and Heinrich Vogeler (1872-1942) had retreated to protest against the domination of the art academy and life in the big city. At Worpswede, Paula Modersohn-Becker took painting lessons from Mackensen. The main subjects were the life of the farmers and the northern German landscape. At this time she began close friendships with the sculptor Clara Westhoff (1875-1954) and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). She also fell in love during this period, and in 1901 she married a fellow Worpswede painter, Otto Modersohn. In marrying Otto, she also became a stepmother to Otto's daughter, Elsbeth Modersohn, the child from his first marriage to Helene Modersohn, then deceased.
Between 1900 and 1907, Paula made several extended trips to Paris for artistic purposes, sometimes living separately from her husband, Otto. During one of her residencies in Paris, she took courses at the École des Beaux-Arts. She visited contemporary exhibitions often, and was particularly intrigued with the work of Paul Cézanne. Other post impressionists were especially influential, including Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Fauve influences may also appear in such works as Poorhouse Woman with a Glass Bottle. The influence by the work of French painter, Jean-Francois Millet, who was widely admired among the artists in the Worpswede group, may be seen in such pieces as her 1900 Peat Cutters.
In her last trip to Paris in 1906, she produced a body of paintings from which she felt very great excitement and satisfaction. During this period of painting, she produced her initial nude self-portraits (something surely unprecedented by a female painter) and portraits of friends such as Rainer Maria Rilke and Werner Sombart. Some critics consider this period of her art production to be the strongest and most compelling.
In 1907, Paula Modersohn-Becker returned to her husband in Worpswede. Their relationship, which had been particularly strained in 1906, had taken a turn towards improvement. Paula's long-lived wish to conceive and bear a child was fulfilled. Her daughter Mathilde (Tillie) Modersohn was born on November 2, 1907. Paula and Otto were joyous. Sadly, the joy became soon overshadowed by tragedy, as Paula Modersohn-Becker died suddenly in Worpswede on November 20 from an embolism.
In 1908, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote the renowned poem, "Requiem for a Friend", in Paula's memory. The poem was born of the imprint that Paula's life, death and friendship left upon Rilke.
Her daughter Tillie (1907-1998) founded the Paula Modersohn-Becker-Foundation (Paula Modersohn-Becker-Stiftung) in 1978.
A 1988 German stamp had her face on it.
Expressionism was a cultural movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany
at the start of the 20th-century. Its typical trait is to present the world under an utterly
subjective perspective, violently distorting it to obtain an emotional effect and vividly
transmit personal moods and ideas. Expressionist artists sought to express the meaning of "being
alive" and emotional experience rather than physical reality.
Expressionism emerged as an 'avant-garde movement' in poetry and painting before the first World
War; in the Weimar years was being appreciated by a mass audience, having its popularity peak in
Berlin, during the 1920s.
Expressionism is exhibited in many art forms, including: painting, literature, theatre, film,
architecture and music. The term often implies emotional angst. In a general sense, painters
such as Matthias Grünewald and El Greco can be called expressionist, though in practice, the
term is applied mainly to 20th century works.
The Expressionist stress on the individual perspective was also a reaction to positivism and
other artistic movements such as naturalism and impressionism.
Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) was a group of artists from the Neue Künstlervereinigung
München in Munich, Germany. Der Blaue Reiter was a German movement lasting from 1911 to 1914,
fundamental to Expressionism, along with Die Brücke which was founded the previous decade in
1905. Les Fauves (French for The Wild Beasts) were a short-lived and loose grouping of early
20th century Modern artists whose works emphasized painterly qualities and strong colour over
the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism. While Fauvism as a style
began around 1900 and continued beyond 1910, the movement as such lasted only three years,
1905–1907, and had three exhibitions. The leaders of the movement were Henri Matisse and André
Painting is a mode of expression and the forms are numerous. Drawing, composition or abstraction
and other aesthetics may serve to manifest the expressive and conceptual intention of the
practitioner. Paintings can be naturalistic and representational (as in a still life or
landscape painting), photographic, abstract, be loaded with narrative content, symbolism,
emotion or be political in nature. Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or
other medium to a surface (support base). In art, the term describes both the act and the
result, which is called a painting. Paintings may have for their support such surfaces as walls,
paper, canvas, wood, glass, lacquer, clay or concrete. Paintings may be decorated with gold
leaf, and some modern paintings incorporate other materials including sand, clay, and scraps of
paper. A portion of the history of painting in both Eastern and Western art is dominated by
spiritual motifs and ideas; examples of this kind of painting range from artwork depicting
mythological figures on pottery to Biblical scenes rendered on the interior walls and ceiling of
The Sistine Chapel, to scenes from the life of Buddha or other scenes of eastern religious
Among the continuing and current directions in painting at the beginning of the 21st century are
Monochrome painting, Hard-edge painting, Geometric abstraction, Appropriation, Hyperrealism,
Photorealism, Expressionism, Minimalism, Lyrical Abstraction, Pop Art, Op Art, Abstract
Expressionism, Color Field painting, Neo-expressionism, Collage, Intermedia painting, Assemblage
painting, Computer art painting, Postmodern painting, Neo-Dada painting, Shaped canvas painting,
environmental mural painting, traditional figure painting, Landscape painting, Portrait
painting, and paint-on-glass animation.
Developments in Eastern painting historically parallel those in Western painting, in general, a
few centuries earlier. African art, Islamic art, Indian art, Chinese art, and Japanese art each
had significant influence on Western art, and, eventually, vice-versa.
The oldest known paintings are at the Grotte Chauvet in France, claimed by some historians to be
about 32,000 years old. They are engraved and painted using red ochre and black pigment and show
horses, rhinoceros, lions, buffalo, mammoth or humans often hunting. However the earliest
evidence of painting has been discovered in two rock-shelters in Arnhem Land, in northern
Australia. In the lowest layer of material at these sites there are used pieces of ochre
estimated to be 60,000 years old. Archaeologists have also found a fragment of rock painting
preserved in a limestone rock-shelter in the Kimberley region of North-Western Australia, that
is dated 40 000 years old. There are examples of cave paintings all over the world—in France,
Spain, Portugal, China, Australia, India etc.
In Western cultures oil painting and watercolor painting are the best known media, with rich and
complex traditions in style and subject matter. In the East, ink and color ink historically
predominated the choice of media with equally rich and complex traditions.
Different types of paint are usually identified by the medium that the pigment is suspended or
embedded in, which determines the general working characteristics of the paint, such as
viscosity, miscibility, solubility, drying time, etc.
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