In this emblematic self-portrait, the pregnant artist stares at viewers with a steady, compelling gaze. One hand is raised, holding two stylized flowers, while the other rests over her swelling belly. Born in Dresden, Modersohn-Becker studied in Berlin from 1896 to 1898, then moved to Worpswede, an artists’ community north of Bremen. There she met her husband, the artist Otto Modersohn, as well as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who became a close companion. Worpswede’s artists were known for their commitment to nature and to positive depictions of the local villagers, but Modersohn-Becker soon grew restless. Between 1900 and her death, in 1907, she made four trips to Paris, studying ancient sculpture and Egyptian mummy portraits at the Louvre and visiting other museums and galleries, all of which profoundly impacted her last great period of work. Best known for penetrating self-portraits, characterized by psychological introspection as well as material and stylistic experimentation, Modersohn-Becker is also thought to be the first woman to paint female nudes.
In this artwork, painted the year of her death, her masklike visage, combined with the areas of thick paint on her brow and right eyelid, the literal carving of a flower into her cheek (likely done with the end of a brush), and the vivid, expressionistic palette, all mark Modersohn-Becker as a pioneering contemporary of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
In this emblematic self-portrait, a pregnant Modersohn–Becker stares out at the viewer with a steady, compelling gaze. One hand is raised, holding two stylized flowers, while the other is positioned over her swelling belly. Modersohn–Becker, a pioneering figure of the 20th–century German avant–garde, is believed to be the first woman to paint herself while pregnant; this painting is one of only a few such portrayals. She gave birth to a daughter on November 2, 1907, and died of complications on November 21, at age 31. The painting’s audacious palette, stark composition, and psychological depth reflect Modersohn–Becker’s position as a pivotal link between Fauvism and German Expressionism.
Gallery label from MoMA Collection, 2017.