Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Letters and Journals of Paula Modersohn-Becker

Rainer Maria Rilke, Clara Westhoff, and Paula Becker were all associated with the Worpswede Artists Colony, near Bremen in Germany. At first it seems that Rilke was a little in love with both women. Eventually he married Clara Westhoff, a sculptor. Paula Becker, a painter, married a widower, Otto Modersohn, also a painter. The painting above is Paula Modersohn-Becker's portrait of Otto's daughter Elsbeth. Eerily, Paula seemed to be fascinated with motherhood, pregnancy, and maternal images, although she had never herself been pregnant. A nude self-portrait she painted showing the rise of a pregnant belly is a fantasy, painted before she ever was with child.

Modersohn-Becker's effervescent, passionate, loving and ardent personality comes through clearly in her letters and journals. She more or less rushed at life as if into a passionate embrace, and the marriage to the older, more reserved Otto cannot have been entirely satisfying. She maintained a friendship and a correspondence with Rilke, and her letters are fresh, lively, and reveal an original mind. The letters and journals have been collected in a single edition: The Letters and Journals: Paula Modersohn-Becker, edited by Gunter Busch and Liselotte Von Reinken. Although Modersohn-Becker was a visual artist with a stunning body of work, to find excellent reproductions of her work you will have to look elsewhere. There are photographs of the artist and her family, and some black and white reproductions of her works.

Dear Friend: Rainer Maria Rilke and Paula Modersohn-Becker, by Eric Torgersen explores the relationship between Rilke and Modersohn-Becker. For anyone interested in the complexities of trying to combine a family life and the life of an artist, Modersohn-Becker's work and story are fascinating. Sadly, Paula Modersohn-Becker died shortly after giving birth to her only child, a daughter. At the time it was common practice to require women to spend the days after childbirth confined to bed; when Modersohn-Becker stood for the first time in several days, a blood clot in her leg went directly to her brain and killed her. It seems like a tragic end for a woman so full of life, and for one who made so many arresting and iconic images of maternity.


BookQuoter said...

I find your posts to be so refreshing and informative.

I just also wanted to pass on some awards for you handed to me by Rachel from Books are a garden.


Grad said...

Oh my gosh, what a tragic story! This was such a lovely post. It makes me want to pick up this book and seek out Paula Modershon-Becker's work.

Hannah Stoneham said...

This sounds wonderful and informative - quite reminds me of the St Ives artists. Sometimes journals/letters are the best windows into a set of events aren't they?

Thank you for sharing this lovely well written post


bibliophiliac said...

Book Quoter: Thanks for bestowing these awards! What a delightful surpise!

bibliophiliac said...

Grad & Hannah:
Thanks for your comments. For many years I was a painter, and I have always had a special regard for Paula M-B. Her work is profound, and as a woman who was trying to patch together a life that included making art and raising children, her work really spoke to me.

Wildefriend said...

Modersohn-Becker wasa very unusual lady. Rilke's "Requiem To A Friend" is one of the most touching paeans to a friend. The translation by Stephen Mitchell is very effective and moving!