She is the first known female artist to paint nude self-portraits

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Self-portrait with green background and blue irises, Paula Modersohn-Becker, c. 1905

February 8, On This Day

Frau power in German art

Paula Modersohn-Becker, year unknown

One of the most important representatives of early expressionism, German artist Paula Modersohn-Becker was born on February 8, 1876, and died very young at the age of 31 from a postpartum embolism (in 1907).

Until the years when Becker began the practice, women painters had not widely used nude females as subjects for their work. Becker’s work on the female nude is unconventional and expresses an ambivalence to both her subject matter and the method of its representation. Becker was trained in the methods of realism and naturalism, along with a recognizable simplicity of form. She was able to achieve a distinct texture to her work by scratching into the wet paint. She later abandoned those techniques to move into Fauvism. She was intrigued with the work of Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.

Self-Portrait, Nude with Amber Necklace Half-Length II

In her legacy, she may also have influenced one or more of Pablo Picasso’s paintings, as noted art historian Diane Radycki posits in her 2013 monograph on the artist. Becker was an important member of the early 20th century modernism movement.

In 1908, it is reported that famous poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote the renowned poem “Requiem for a Friend” in Modersohn-Becker’s memory.

Mädchen mit Kaninchen (1905)

 

Founder of ‘Der Blaue Reiter’

 

Franz Marc in 1910

Also born on February 8, but in 1880, was another German painter and printmaker, Franz Marc. A key figure of German Expressionism, he was a founding member of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a journal whose name later became synonymous with the circle of artists collaborating in it — including  Wassily Kandinsky,  Paul Klee, and more.

Der Blaue Reiter was an art movement lasting from 1911 to 1914, fundamental to Expressionism, along with Die Brücke which was founded in 1905.

Marc’s works mostly depict animals, and are known for bright colouration. His work is characterized by an almost cubist portrayal, stark simplicity and a profound sense of emotion. Marc gave an emotional meaning or purpose to the colors he used in his work: blue was used to portray masculinity and spirituality, yellow represented feminine joy, and red encased the sound of violence.

Blaues Pferd I, Blue Horse I (1911)
Fuchs, Fox (1911), Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal
Der Tiger, The Tiger (1912), Lenbachhaus in Munich

In the 1930s, the Nazis named him a degenerate artist as part of their suppression of modern art. However, most of his work survived World War II, securing his legacy. His work is now exhibited in many eminent galleries and museums.

Marc did not survive the same war himself. He was drafted to serve in the German Army at the beginning of World War I, and died two years later at the Battle of Verdun (in 1916, at the age of just 36).

Tierschicksale, Fate of the Animals (1913), Kunstmuseum Basel in Basel