We often hear the question, “Why are there not more female artists in the show?” It is a reasonable and pertinent question, however, one that is not so easy to answer. While there were many highly talented female artists over the centuries, it is true that many—save for a few exceptions—were in the shadow of men. This had to do primarily with social conditions and the fact that women were often not allowed to study art in public institutions or to travel all by themselves.
Installation view of Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (June 8–September 14, 2014), photo © Museum Associates/LACMA. Middle Left: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Girl with Flower Vases (Mädchen mit Blumenvasen), c. 1907, Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, photo Credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY
The First Modern Woman Artist
by Marcia G. Yerman
Paula Modersohn-Becker: The First Modern Woman Artist, by Diane Radycki, relates the personal story and artistic history of a woman that has much to offer today's audiences.
Radycki's book, which had its origins in a Harvard Ph.D. dissertation, sees Modersohn-Becker as a pioneer and groundbreaker who was trying to navigate "having it all."
Monetary gifts from relatives and a small inheritance from her godmother allowed Modersohn-Becker to pursue art lessons and an education. She attended the drawing and painting academy run by the Association of Women Artists, where Käthe Kollwitz had studied. In this environment, Modersohn-Becker was provided with role models of women artists as teachers, creative entities, and those in positions of authority. Girls saw they could have a future as art teachers, rather than as a governess.
The society and world events that Modersohn-Becker was shaped by are of intrinsic interest to Radycki. She sets her subject not only within a historical and sociological context, but also draws a compelling picture of the people Modersohn-Becker associated with. Primary in the narrative are her relationships with her best friend, sculptor Clara Westhoff, and Westhoff's future husband, the writer and poet Rainer Maria Rilke. A year after Modersohn-Becker's death, Rilke would write his tribute, Requiem for a Friend.