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“Marriage takes away hope”: As an artist, Paula Modersohn-Becker was looking for a balance between family and creativity

At the end of the 19th century, the inhabitants of the German village of Worpswede only said that they were about the eccentric artists who settled there. Young men and women wandered around with their sketchbooks around Worpswede, bringing stunted birches, small rivers and rotten foliage to the canvas. The canvases of one of them, Otto Moderzon, were seen at the exhibition by a young artist – Paula Becker – and this completely turned her life upside down.

Paula Becker was born in Dresden. Her father was an engineer, and her mother came from a noble family of von Bultsinglsvlen. The parents gave all their efforts to ensure that their three offspring received a good education and upbringing – but they were thinking very traditionally, therefore Paula had to study languages ​​and home economics.

However, having gone to study in the suburbs of London, the active Paula did not waste time and in the same place received her elementary art education. Later, still obeying the will of her parents, she graduated from a teacher’s course. At that time, a woman should not have dreamed of becoming an artist: the state academies did not accept women.

However, Paula continued to write and attended all the exhibitions she could attend. Once her gaze lingered on a melancholic landscape, so fresh in comparison with the pathos of historical canvases that members of art academies wrote. Paula sensed: this is exactly what her soul is seeking.
Soon she arrived in Worpswede to meet the author.

No one remembered their first meeting, and in the letters Paula only mentioned in passing: “I saw Otto Modersohn …”. But one day he, a faithful husband and father, looking up from work, looked out the window and saw a girl in a dark dress walking arm in arm with an old woman from a local poorhouse. Portraits of old women, painted by Paula Becker, are among the best works of German painting, and the heart of Otto Modersohn from that moment belonged to a strange young artist.

Back in Worpswede, Paula met Clara Westhoff, the future wife of Rainer Maria Rilke. Clara successfully engaged in sculpture, and together the girls went to France, where they were at the very heart of the artistic life of Europe. They diligently studied and also assiduously absorbed the experience of other artists, listened to discussions, made acquaintances … There, at the World Exhibition in Paris, a new meeting of Paula and Otto Modernson took place.

Otto received the sad news from his homeland, his wife died. He hastily returned to Germany, but after three months interrupted his mourning for his late spouse. Paula and Otto got married.

The first three years of marriage, both of them recognized as happy – Paula tried hard to be a good wife and mother of her adopted daughter, Otto contributed to the creative self-realization of his wife. At the same time, Paula is experiencing the first creative crisis, realizing the limited possibilities of landscape painting.

She is increasingly turning to portrait painting, overcoming the artistic language, which she adopted in Worpswede, repeatedly wrote her adopted daughter Elsbeth against the background of German nature, self-portraits.

Such changes meet with a misunderstanding of Otto Moderzon, in which she sought a kindred spirit and absolute acceptance.

The loneliness of Paula, whose works are barely exhibited, becomes suffocating. She writes: “My experience says that marriage does not make you happier. It takes away the illusion that had previously nourished your whole being, about the existence of a soul mate. ”

Paula painfully meets the criticism of Otto, who does not understand what hurts her. He honestly believed that only helps to reveal the creative genius of Paula. A few years later, he confesses that he scooped a lot from her work and, recalling her past “advice,” he would say: “She was right in everything, everything.”

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