Paula Modersohn-Becker and Dante Rossetti – more paired examples

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:

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:

‘A girl’s head in front of a window’, by Paula Modersohn-Becker. 1902. (Private collection).

‘La Donna della Finestra’, by Dante Rossetti. 1879. (Fogg Museum, Harvard University). Detail, reversed.

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.

‘Seated old peasant’, by Paula Modersohn-Becker. c.1903. (Kunstmuseum, Basel).

‘Frances Rossetti’, by Dante Rossetti. c.1865. (Unknown location).

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.

‘Self-portrait with a camellia branch’, by Paula Modersohn-Becker. c.1906-07. (Museum Folkwang, Essen).

‘Study of a girl holding a leaf ‘, by Dante Rossetti. c.1867-70. (Private collection).

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.

‘Reclining female nude on the grass’, by Paula Modersohn-Becker. c.1898-99. Paula-Modersohn-Becker-Stiftung, Bremen).

‘Saint Eulalia’, by John William Waterhouse. c.1885. (Tate, London).

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.

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Paula Modersohn-Becker continues to inspire

The self-portraits of Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907) continue to fascinate and inspire both artists and writers alike. Details of her short but intense life capture the imagination, with her trips from rural Germany to the bustling art schools of Paris, her attempts to juggle motherhood with life as a painter, and her bold experimental approach to art.

On Modersohn-Becker’s death, her friend Rainer Maria Rilke was inspired to write a tribute in the form of a poem, “Requiem for a Friend”. No doubt drawing on the imagery of Mosersohn-Becker’s later nude self-portraits, this celebrated poet included the lines:

“Women too you saw as fruit, and children,
impelled from inside toward their destined forms.
At last you saw yourself as fruit, you took
yourself out of your clothes and brought yourself
before the mirror, then let yourself go in…
So free of curiosity at last,
your gaze, so free of owning, of such true
poverty, wanting not even yourself: holy.”

In recent years, the writer and journalist Sue Hubbard was inspired to write a novel about Paula Modersohn-Becker and her daughter, Mathilde, “Girl in White” (2015). Hubbard’s novel draws on the artist’s diaries and letters, as well as imagery from the paintings, to create an evocative story of a daughter revisiting the life of her mother. This imaginative story is all the more haunting as the artist died just days after giving birth to Mathilde.

The cover features my favourite painting by Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-portrait on my sixth wedding anniversary (1906). In this painting, Modersohn-Becker painted herself both as both an artist, pregnant with ideas, and as a mother-to-be.

Film makers
In 2016, the film Paula was released in Germany (director Christian Schwochow, The Match Factory GmbH, Cologne). Unfortunately this film is not yet available on the open market with English subtitles, but hopefully it will only be a matter of time until it is. I have been lucky enough to watch this film with English subtitles and found it utterly compelling. To see a few minutes of Paula (with English subtitles), click on the link below: 

The painter Chantal Joffe will be exhibiting some of her own work alongside paintings by Paula Modersohn-Becker in the Lowry, Manchester  (19 May – 2 September 2018). Joffe’s work is frank and direct, recalling intimate and personal glimpses from her own life. In the painting below, Self-Portrait Pregnant (2) (2004, oil on board, 29.2 x 21.8cm), Joffe draws inspiration from Modersohn-Becker’s Self-portrait on my sixth wedding anniversary.

‘Self-Portrait Pregnant (2)’ by Chantal Joffe – reproduced with the kind permission of the artist

Paula Modersohn-Becker was perhaps the first woman to paint herself nude and pregnant.  The joint allusion to the creation of art and the creation of life is an obvious draw for a woman artist who has also had children. This combination has certainly been of interest to my own practice as an artist. Last year I painted an image of my own daughter, who is herself an artist. Taking Modersohn-Becker’s pregnant self-portrait as my model, I painted my daughter within the outline of a horned animal, which itself recalls the form of a uterus.

‘I made this’ by Rebecca Jelbert (2017)

Although this obviously looks nothing like Modersohn-Becker’s self-portrait, her painting was in the forefront of mind when I created it. This, I suppose, is the nature of he inspiration; the initial idea can be passed on from generation to generation, under various guises.

On the theme of inspiration and the work of Paula Modersohn-Becker, I wrote an article for the Burlington last year (“Paula Modersohn-Becker’s self-portraits and the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti”, August 2017, no.1373, vol.159) in which I argued that she was influenced in her painting of Self-portrait on my sixth wedding anniversary by the Annunciation paintings of Dante Rossetti. I find it absolutely that fascinating that both make and female artists have been inspired by a joint reference to artistic production and biological reproduction. However unlikely it may sound, I am currently researching Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos which I believe are also linked to this combined theme. And how did I come to look at the work of Michelangelo? It was through my initial research into Paula Modersohn-Becker and her respect for Michelangelo, as described in her letters…

“*To her parents                                                                                  [June 8, 1900]

…The sculptor Rodin has opened a special exhibition, the great, profound lifework of a sixty-year-old [for whom the poet Rainer Maria Rilke worked as a secretary]. He has captured life and the spirit of life with enormous power. For me, he is comparable only to Michelangelo, and in some ways I even feel closer to him. That such human beings exist on earth makes living and striving worthwhile.”

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Les Alpes

I’ve been experimenting with acrylic paint and texture paste on large sheets of thick watercolour paper. I did’t really plan to do it this way – in fact I had planned to paint some large watercolours – but one thing led to another and this is what happened…

The Alps – brown, by Rebecca Jelbert


Above are a few close-ups of the textured areas from larger painting. Acrylics are so versatile and can, of course, be used in watery washes as well as in thick layers. Hopefully you can see where I’ve scratched at the texture paste, and washed over some of the uneven surfaces. Then I tried another scene, again with the texture paste, but with a different colour palette:

The Alps – blue, by Rebecca Jelbert

And a few more details:


A quick change of location – the painting below is triptych of the Denali mountains. Each canvas is 1m x 1m. I loved painting these canvases as the images were so large that I could image myself there, standing in the snow.

Denali mountains

I wish I could visit to gather some more reference material, but for now I will just have to imagine myself on one of those peaks…!

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Paula Modersohn-Becker’s self-portraits and the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I’m very proud to announce that my article for the art history journal The Burlington Magazine (August 2017), “Paula Modersohn-Becker’s self-portraits and the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti”, was published this month.

Link to the article:

I’ve been working on this project for a number of years and I’m very excited to see it out in print at last. I first came to realise that there was a strong visual link between the work of German artist Paula Modersohn-Becker and the Pre-raphaelite Dante Rossetti while studying for an MPhil at Bristol University. Whilst randomly flicking through a book on symbolism, my eyes came to rest on Rossetti’s “Astarte Syriaca”, and its resemblance to Modersohn-Becker’s “Composition with three female figures, a self-portrait in the middle” was striking. In the article I identify further pairs of connected paintings, and explain how this influence sheds light on the extraordinary work of Modersohn-Becker.

Whilst studying at Bristol, I began to research the depiction of pregnancy in twentieth-century art. Paula Modersohn-Becker was one of a handful of painters and sculptors who combined ideas of biological generation with artistic creation. I continue to research this fruitful field of study, which I believe has provided both male and female artists with a rich source of ideas. Perhaps because of the private nature of pregnancy, it has had less attention than other fields of study. I hope that my work will go some way towards addressing this.

As a mother of three, and as a profession painter myself, I know that pregnancy and having children has influenced my work immensely. Because some of my paintings are so  personal, there are quite a few of them that I would not want to sell commercially, but I am aware that this imagery continues to inform my other work.

Pregnancy painting by Rebecca Jelbert (1990s)

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Hampshire show still running!

I have had some paintings in a an art exhibition in Romsey, Hampshire. The show started at the beginning of June and still has about a week to run until the paintings come down. The setting is wonderful, with a garden surrounding the gallery and a cafe on hand!

Dates: The exhibition ends Wednesday 28th June 2017, at 3pm.

Location: Sir Harold Hilier Gardens, Jermyns Lane, Romsey, Hampshire, SO51 0QA.

I have a selection of larger abstract paintings on canvas, and a few examples of my realistic commission work.



In the exhibition I have also included a few examples of my painted commissions work. Although the examples in the show are acrylic on canvas, I also paint in watercolours.



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Abstracts without titles

As yet untitled

I have been finishing off a series of abstract paintings for a summer show in Hampshire – details below. The trouble is, I need to decide on how to title them. Until now they have hung on my walls at home, but for an exhibition they need to be named.

My figurative paintings have simple but descriptive titles that remind me in an instant of the subjects matter, the country etc. But my abstracts do not recall a specific event, person or place. I suppose the technical term for this work is abstract expressionism: I don’t plan them at all, in fact each one is totally spontaneous and at the start I have absolutely no idea what the final painting will look like. The process can take months, even years, but at some point the composition feels balanced, and I know instinctively that it is finished.

For me, my abstracts do evoke an emotional response, but for someone else the same painting would likely induce a different feeling. Colour is so personal and these pictures, all one metre square, are so large that the blocks of paint can really engulf you. I should also say that the interaction of colour and form are really important for me, as is the tactile application of thick paint onto canvas- with both brush and hands!

So how can you distill this difficult-to explain experience into a one or two word title? Perhaps I should fall back on a dominant colour or shape, or even a random word or number? It is a conundrum, but I will have decide very soon.

The exhibition details:
Sir Harold Hillier Gardens
Jermyns Lane, Romsey
Hampshire, SO51 0QA

Friday 9th June – Wednesday 28th June 2017 (10am – 5pm)*
*exhibition closes 3pm on the final day

As yet untitled

Also untitled!

Blue Hook/ Two Semicircles – Ahhhhh!


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Stourhead Summer Exhibition 2017, Wiltshire

As usual, I will be taking part in the summer art exhibition at Stourhead in Wiltshire, in the lovely First-View Gallery.

The show runs from:
Saturday 3rd June – Sunday 25th June

First-View Gallery   
Spread Eagle Courtyard, Stourton
Wiltshire, BA12 6QE
Tel: 01747 840747
Website for First-View Gallery:
National Trust site:

There will be a selection of artwork from over 60 artists, exhibited in the idyllic setting of a the National Trust’s Stourhead house and gardens. This year I am exhibiting a number of my new planet paintings…









In past years, though, I have painted some of the beautiful Stourhead architecture, surrounded by trees and reflected in the still waters of the lake. It really is a stunning place to visit, and very inspiring for gardeners and painters alike!

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