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Paula Modersohn-Becker
The First Modern Woman Artist
by Diane Radycki
Yale University Press, 2013



“The complication of the artist’s being a woman… Ah, that really is a whole new question.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke


Now considered one of the most important of early German modernists, the painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907) was a daring innovator of gender imagery—the first woman artist to challenge centuries of traditional representations of the female body in art.

The first to paint herself nude and the first to paint mothers and their children nude, she also painted self-portraits while she was pregnant. Modersohn-Becker painted the life she was living as a woman and modern artistand led the way for generations of women artists to come. It has taken a century of women artists whose work challenges sexuality, culture, and artistic tradition to recognize fully what she pioneered.

Diane Radycki examines the artist’s compelling biography: her professional struggles; her personal anguish, including her irresolution about motherhood; and her friendships with the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the sculptor Clara Rilke-Westhoff. Tragically, her life and art were cut short at age thirty-one, following complications from childbirth.

Radycki also analyzes the painter’s work—figure (especially nudes), still life, and landscape—and details the rise of her reputation, from obscurity following her death in 1907 to notoriety in the infamous Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937. 

The first American publication on the artist in over two decades, this book features biography, reception history, and visual analysis. Most important of all, it makes an important contribution to understanding the significant role of women artists in the complex evolution of modernism.