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

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

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 504 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

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)
Additional text

In this self-portrait, the pregnant artist looks out at us with a steady, self-possessed gaze. She rests one hand protectively on her swelling belly, and raises the other to hold two flowers—symbols of fertility. Modersohn-Becker is believed to have been the first woman to paint herself while pregnant. She was also one of the first German artists to experiment with the audacious color and simplified forms of modernism and to pursue the emotional charge such distortions might provoke. “Personal feeling,” she wrote, “is the main thing.” This was among the last paintings the artist made; she died of complications from childbirth later the same year.

Gallery label from 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.
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
21 3/4 × 9 3/4" (55.2 × 24.8 cm)
Credit
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
Object number
570.2017
Department
Painting and Sculpture

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Provenance Research Project

This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.

1907, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Worpswede, Germany.
[1907 - before 1917, Estate of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Worpswede, Germany]
1917 - at least 1919, Karl Jakob Hirsch (1892-1952), Worpswede, Paris, and Berlin.
[1919, Graphisches Kabinett J. B. Neumann (Jsrael Ber Neumann, 1887-1961), Berlin]
By 1928 (probably by 1921) - at least July 16, 1941 (possibly until 1950), Hugo Simon (1880-1950), Berlin, Paris, and Brazil, possibly purchased from/through Graphisches Kabinett J. B. Neumann.
[1950 - 1952, Gertrud Simon, Brazil, probably inherited from her husband Hugo Simon]
1952 - 1966, Paul Speck (1896-1966), Zürich, probably acquired through Galerie Ernst Beyeler.
1966 - 1976, Else Speck, Zürich, inherited from her husband Paul Speck.
1976 - 2013, Julia Diethelm, Zürich, inherited from her mother Else Speck.
2013 - 2017, Heirs of Julia Diethelm, Zürich, inherited from Julia Diethelm.
2017, The Museum of Modern Art and The Neue Galerie, New York, jointly purchased from heirs of Julia Diethelm through Kunsthandel Wolfgang Werner, Bremen/Berlin.

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