PAULA MODERSOHN-BECKER, THE LETTERS AND JOURNALS by Paula Modersohn-Becker

PAULA MODERSOHN-BECKER, THE LETTERS AND JOURNALS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Now generally acknowledged to be the most important woman painter of twentieth-century Germany,"" Modersohn-Becker died at 31 in 1907--soon after childbirth. Her posthumous letters-and-journals, in a highly selective (sentimental) edition, became a post-WW I German bestseller. Here, however, is a highly un-selective edition: ""every known word written by the artist""--plus letters to (or about) Paula by friends and family, as well as revealing journal-entries by Paula's artist-husband Otto Modersohn. From a middle-class Bremen family, Paula discovered drawing, insisted on attending art school in Berlin. (The most engaging items in these early years are not Paula's celebrations of art--but the affectionate, dour warnings of her supportive/dubious father.) At 19 she began a series of sojourns at Worpswede, an artists' colony where both her painting--stark portraits of peasant models--and her love-of-nature blossomed. (""Worpswede, Worpswede, I cannot get you out of my mind. . . . Your magnificent pine trees! I call them my men--thick, gnarled, powerful, and tall--yet with the most delicate nerves and fibers in them."") There, she met her future husband Otto as well as Rainer Maria Rilke (""gentle and sensitive, with small, touching hands""), who would marry Paula's best friend Clara Westhoff. (An odd jealousy-triangle.) Love-letters dominate the middle sections of this collection, then--effusive and lyrical. But though eager enough for marriage, Paula felt imprisoned by it, taking trips on her own to Paris for esthetic inspiration (Cezanne, Gauguin) as well as personal freedom. The tensions within the marriage (professional envy, Otto's conformity vs. Paula's free spirit) emerge more in Otto's journals than in Paula's letters. And eventually Paula left Otto for good (""I am Me, and I hope to become Me more and more"")--though she was persuaded to return. . . with fatal results. Repetitious, verbose, and psychologically murky as a memoir-in-letters--but with nuggets of interest for feminists, art-historians, and (above all) specialists in the field of portrait-painting.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 1983
ISBN: 0810116448
Publisher: Taplinger