Self-portraits by Paula Modersohn-Becker
In August 2017 I had an article published in The Burlington entitled ‘Paula Modersohn-Becker’s self-portraits and the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’. The article is accessible from this link: https://www.burlington.org.uk/archive/back-issues/201708
In this article, I argue that Modersohn-Becker was inspired for her self-portraits by the work of the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Rossetti. I give a number of examples to illustrate the strong visual similarities between self-portraits by Modersohn-Becker and portraits by Rossetti. Examples include:
* Self-portrait with a bowl and a glass, by Paula Modersohn-Becker. c.1904. (Sander Collection) AND The day dream, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 1880. (Victoria and Albert Museum, London).
* Self-portrait nude with amber necklace, by Paula Modersohn-Becker. 1906. (Private collection) AND Venus Verticordia, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 1864–68. (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth).
* Composition with three female figures, a self-portrait in the middle, by Paula Modersohn-Becker. 1907. (Destroyed in Elberfeld, Germany in 1943) AND Astarte Syriaca, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 1877. (Manchester Art Gallery).
Other portraits by Paula Modersohn-Becker
Today I stumbled upon my notes for this article and was reminded of other matched pairs that emphasise the influence of Rossetti’s work. These examples exhibit similar poses and props, as before, but involve paintings of other women:
Both paintings show a young woman with her head tilted to one side, sitting in front of a window. In both cases, the model’s head is next to a bunch of flowers. The elongated vase in Modersohn-Becker’s picture echoes the pillar in Rossetti’s portrait.
Besides the obvious echoing of poses, these two older women are painted overwhelmingly in dark tones. In each case the hands are interlocked, smooth dark hair is tucked beneath a head scarf, and material from the head covering is hanging down in front.
Both women are set in front of a simple background. They are holding a small branch with a hand full of leaves, they have straight, brown hair with a middle parting, and a top with a scooped neck.
Paula Modersohn-Becker’s female figure shows the same extreme foreshortening used by John Waterhouse in Saint Eulalia. Modersohn-Becker replaced the row of pillars with a distant line of trees. Waterhouse painted in the style of the Pre-Raphaelites and taught at the St. John Wood Art School from at least 1892 to 1913. Paula Modersohn-Becker attended this art school when she was staying in London with a relative in 1892. Whist in London, Modersohn-Becker would have been able to view original paintings by Rossetti at the National Gallery.
This additional set of paintings evidences the ongoing inspiration Modersohn-Becker drew from Rossetti. Over an extended period of time, Modersohn-Becker was not only influenced by Rossetti’s work for her self-portraits, but for other figurative paintings.