Collection 1880s–1940s

Paula Modersohn-Becker. Self-Portrait with Two Flowers in Her Raised Left Hand. 1907 516

Oil on canvas, 21 3/4 × 9 3/4" (55.2 × 24.8 cm). Jointly owned by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Debra and Leon Black, and Neue Galerie New York, Gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder. Conservation was made possible by the Bank of America Art Conservation Project

Curator, Ann Temkin: What we have here, at the dawn of the 20th century, is an artist who's looking to propel her being into this painting. She's interested in force, right, spiritual force, emotional force.

This is a self-portrait by the artist Paula Modersohn-Becker. You can see she's pregnant, although you don’t see her abdomen, you see her holding her right hand in a sort of protective way over her belly.

Her painting techniques that would have been very, very new for that moment: the combination of a kind of rough paint application and the boldness of her colors. For example, if you just look at that patch of pink that's her whole left ear or the way she handles the coloration around her eyes.

If you think about portrayals of pregnant women by male artists, chances are you would have a very romanticized or even erotic view of the charming mother-to-be. You have nothing about that here. You have a very sober, knowing and not at all fragile person, and I think that's a breakthrough in the history of women taking on the subject of women.

And this is one of her final paintings, because, indeed, what ended up killing her were complications from childbirth. And so this has a kind of poignancy biographically, as well as just being a stunning painting.

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