Paula Modersohn-Becker

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Paula Modersohn-Becker

Paula Modersohn-Becker (February 8, 1876 - November 21, 1907) was a German painter in Worpswede, was one of the most important representatives of early Expressionism. She frequently stayed in Paris and saw the work of modern artists there, like paintings of Cézanne and early Matisse's.

Quotes of Paula Modersohn-Becker[edit]

chronologically, by date of the quotes

1897[edit]

  • Worpswede, Worpswede, Worpswede! [small rural village in North-Germany were a colony of German artists was working then, including Paula] My sunken Bell mood! Birches, birches, pine trees and old willows. Beautiful brown moors – exquisite brown! The canals with their black reflections, black as asphalt..
    • a quote of her Journal, Worpswede 1897; as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 192


  • Worpswede, Worpswede, I cannot get you out of my mind. There was such atmosphere there – right down to the tips of your toes. Your magnificent pine trees! I call them my men – thick, gnarled, powerful, and tall – and yet with the most delicate nerves and fibers in them. That is my image of the ideal artist. And your birch trees – delicate, slender young virgins who delight the eyes. With that relaxed and dreamy face, as if life had not really begun for them.. .But then there are some already masculine and bold, with strong and straight trunks. Those are my 'Modern women'. And you willows, with your knotty trunks.. .You are my old men with silver beards. I have company enough, indeed I do, and it's my own private company. We understand each other well and nod friendly answers back and forth. Life, life, life!
    • a quote of her Journal, Worpswede 1897; as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 192


  • Today I painted my first plain air portrait at the clay pit, a little blond and blue-eyed girl. The way the little thing stood in the yellow sand was simply beautiful – a bright and shimmering thing to see. It made my heart leap. Painting people is indeed more beautiful than painting a landscape. I suppose you can notice that I am dead-tired, after this long day of hard work, cant you? But inside I am so peaceful and happy..
    • In a letter to her mother (Worpswede, August 1897); as quoted in Paula Modersohn-Becker, The Letters and Journals by Paula Modersohn-Becker, eds. Günter Busch, Liselotte von Reinken, Arthur S. Wensinger, Carole Clew Hoey - Northwestern University Press, 1998, p. 79


  • I paint all day. First Becka Brotmann with her loose yellow hair and just a suggestion of dahlias in the background. Then I painted Anni Brotmann at the clay pit, where the sun nearly baked us. In the afternoon I painted Rieke Gefken holding red lilies. I think it is the best thing I've done so far – I'll show it to Mackensen [her teacher in Worpswede] tomorrow. I spent another hour with Vogeler, yesterday.. ..he showed us a sketchbook full of his ideas for etchings.. ..many really fine and original things.
    • ** In a letter to her mother (Worpswede, c 28 August 1897); as quoted in Paula Modersohn-Becker, The Letters and Journals by Paula Modersohn-Becker, eds. Günter Busch, Liselotte von Reinken, Arthur S. Wensinger, Carole Clew Hoey - Northwestern University Press, 1998, p. 81


  • My blonde was here again today. This time with her little boy at her breast. I had to draw her as a mother, had to. That is her single true purpose. Marvelous, these gleaming white breasts in her fiery red blouse. The whole thing is so grand in its shape and color…
    • excerpt of her Journal, Worpswede 1897; as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 193


  • The journal of w:Marie Bashkirtseff [woman-painter born in the Ukraine, who died very young; her Journal was published c. 1895]. Her thoughts enter my bloodstream and make me very sad. I say as she doers: if only I could accomplish something! My existence seems humiliating to me. We don't have the right to strut around, not until we've made something of ourselves.
    • excerpt of her Journal, Worpswede 1897; as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 193


  • I sketched a young mother with her child at her breast, sitting in a smoky hut. If only I could someday paint what I felt then. A sweet woman, an image of charity. She was nursing her big, year-old bambino.. .And the woman gave her life and her youth and her power tot the child in utter simplicity, unaware that she was a heroine.
    • excerpt of her Journal, Worpswede 1897; as quoted in: Witzling (1991, p. 193) and Delia Gaze (2001) Concise Dictionary of Women Artists, p. 489


  • I think I'm getting into the real mood and atmosphere of Worpswede now. What I used to call my Sunken Bell mood, the spell I was under when I first got here, was sweet, very sweet – but it was really only a dream, and one that couldn’t last long in any sort of active life. Then came the reaction to it, and after that something truer – serious work and serious living for my art, a battle I must fight with all my strength. I am filled with the sun, every part of me, and with the breezy air, intoxicated with the moonlight on the bright snow.. .Nature was speaking with me and I listened to her, happy and vibrant. Life.
    • excerpt of her Journal, Worpswede 1897; as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, pp. 193-194


  • Nature is supposed to become greater to me than people. It ought to speak louder from me. I should feel small in the face of nature's enormity. That is the way Mackensen [her teacher, painter in Worpswede] thinks it should be. That is the alpha and omega of all critique. What I should learn, he says, is a more devout representation of nature. It seems that I let my own insignificant person step to the forefront too much.
    • excerpt of her Journal, Worpswede 1897; as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 194


  • I became aware of something today when I was with Fräulein Weshoff [German woman-sculptor, who married later the poet Rilke ]. I should like to have her as a friend. She is grand and splendid to look at – and that's the way she is as a person and as an artist. Today we raced down the hill on our little sleds. It was such fun.
    • excerpt of her Journal, Worpswede 1897; as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 194


  • If I could really paint! A month ago I was so sure of what I wanted. Inside me I saw it out there, walked around with it like a queen, and was blissful. Now the veils have fallen again, gray veils, hiding the whole idea of me. I stand like a beggar at the door, shivering in the cold, pleading to be let in. It is hard to move patiently, step by step, when one is young and demanding.. .I walk along the boulevards [Paris] and crowds of people pass by and something inside me cries out, 'I still have such beautiful things before me. None of you, not one, has such things'. And then it cries, 'When will it come? Soon?'
    • excerpt of her Journal (Paris 1897); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 195


  • I have been depressed for days. Profoundly sad and solemn. I think the time is coming for struggle and uncertainty. It comes into every serious and beautiful life. I knew all along that it had to come. I've been expecting it. I am not afraid of it. I know it will mature and help me develop. But everything seems so serious and so hard, serious and sad to me. I walk through this huge city [Paris]. I look into a thousand thousand eyes. But I almost never find a soul there.. .And beneath it all flows the Styx [the Seine], deep and slow, knowing nothing of these brooks and wells of ours. I am sad. And all around me ate the heavy, pregnant, perfumed breezes of spring..
    • excerpt of her Journal (Paris 1897); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 195


  • As I was painting today, some thoughts came to me and I want to write them down for people I love. I know that I shall not live very long. But I wonder, is that sad? Is a celebration more beautiful because it lasts longer? And my life is a celebration, a short, intense celebration. My powers of perception are becoming finer.. ..with almost every breeze I take, I get a new sense and understanding of the linden tree, of ripened wheat, of hay.. .I suck everything up into me. And if only now love would blossom for me, before I depart; and if I can paint three good pictures, then I shall go gladly, with flowers in my hair..
    • excerpt of her Journal (1897); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 196


  • Someday I must be able to paint truly remarkable colors. Yesterday I held in my lap a wide, silver-gray satin ribbon, which I edged with two narrower black, patterned silk ribbons. And I placed on top of these a plump, bottle-green velvet bow. I'd like to be able to paint something one day in those colors...
    • excerpt of her Journal (1897); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 196


1898[edit]

  • How happy I would be if I could give figurative expression to the unconscious feeling that often murmurs so softly and sweetly within me.
    • In her Diary (1898), as quoted in: Werner Haftmann (1966) An analysis of the artists and their work, p. 82


  • I believe that one should not think about nature in painting pictures. At least not during the process of conceiving the image. An oil sketch should be made just according to the way one once felt something in nature. But my own personal feeling, that is the main thing. Once I have got that pinned down, clear in its form and color, only then do I introduce things from nature which will make my picture have a natural; effect, so that a layman will be totally convinced that I painted my picture from nature.
    • excerpt of her Journal (1898); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 197


  • Recently I have felt just what the mood of colors means to me: it means that everything in this picture changes its local color according to the same principle and that thereby all muted tones blend in a unified relationship, one to the other.
    • excerpt of her Journal, Worpswede, 24 July 1898; as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 197


  • I was reading about and looking at Mantegna [Italian early-Renaissance painter]. I can sense how good he is for me. His enormous plasticity – it has such powerful substance. That is just what is lacking in my things. I could do something about that if I could add his substantiality to the greatness of form I'm struggling for. At present I see before my eyes very simple and barely articulated things. My second major stumbling is my lack of intimacy. Mackensen’s [her former teacher] way of portraying the people here is not great enough for me, too genre like. Whoever could, ought to capture them in runic script..
    • excerpt of her Journal, Worpswede 1898; as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 197


  • Today I saw an exhibition of old Japanese paintings and sculpture [in Paris]. I was seized by the great strangeness of these things. It makes our own art seem all the more conventional to me. Our art is very meager in expressing the emotions we have inside. Old Japanese art seems to have a better solution for that.. .We must put more weight on the fundamentals!! When I took my eyes from these pictures and began looking at the people around me, I suddenly saw that human being are more remarkable, much more striking and surprising than they have been painted. A sudden realization like that comes only at moments.
    • excerpt of her Journal, Paris (1898); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 197


  • I must learn how to express the gentle vibration of things, their roughened textures, their intricacies. I have to find an expression for that in my drawing, too, in the way I sketched my nudes here in Paris, only more original, more subtly observed. The strange quality of expectation that hovers over muted things [skin, Otto's w:Otto Modersohn forehead, fabrics, flowers]; I must try to get hold of the great and simple beauty of all that. In general, I must strive for the utmost simplicity united with the most intimate power of observation. That's where greatness lies.
    • excerpt of her Journal, Paris (1898); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, pp. 197-198


1899[edit]

  • I am constantly observing things and believe that I am coming closer to beauty. In the last few days I have discovered form and have been thinking much about it. Until now I've had no real feeling for the antique. I could find it very beautiful by itself. But I could never find any thread leading from it to modern art. Now I've found it, and that’s what I believe is called progress.
    • excerpt of her Journal (1899); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 198


  • I feel an inner relationship which leads from the antique tot the Gothic, especially from the early ancient art, and from the Gothic to my own feeling for form. A great simplicity of form is something marvelous. As far back as I can remember, I have tried to put the simplicity of nature into the heads that I was painting or drawing. Now I have a real sense of being able to learn from the heads of ancient sculpture..
    • excerpt of her Journal (1899); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 198


  • The intensity with which a subject is grasped [still life's, portraits, or creations of the imagination] – that is what makes for beauty in art.
    • excerpt of her Journal, Worpswede 1899; as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 198


  • Last year I wrote: the intensity with which a subject is grasped, that is what makes for beauty in art. Isn't it also true for love?
    • excerpt of her Journal, Worpswede 1899; as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991


  • I really see nothing of other people. I'm trying to dig my way back again into my work. One absolutely has to dedicate oneself, every bit of oneself, to the one inescapable thing. That's the only way to get somewhere and to become something.
    • In a letter to her parents (Worpswede, 10 September 1899); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 199


  • I've made use of the beautiful weather to sketch and paint outside. I had been staying away from color for such a long time that it had become something quite foreign to me. Working in color was always a great joy to me. And now it is a great joy again. Still, I have to battle with it, wrestle with it, with all my strength. And one must be victorious. But if it weren't for the fight, all the beauty of it wouldn't exist at all, would it? I'm writing this mostly for Mother who, I believe, thinks my whole life is one constant act of egoistic ecstasy. But devotion to art also involves something unselfish.
    • In a letter to her parents (Worpswede, 10 September 1899); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 199


  • I'm going through a strange period now. Maybe the most serious of all my short life. I can see that my goals are becoming more and more remote from those of the family, and that you and they will be less and less inclined to approve of them.. .And still I must go on. I must not retreat. I struggle forward, just as all of you do, but I'm doing it within my own mind, my own skin, and in the way I think is right. I'm little frightened by my loneliness in my unguarded hours. But personally those are the very hours that help me along toward my goal. You needn't show this letter to our parents.
    • In a letter to her sister Milly (21 September 1899); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 199


1900 - 1907[edit]

  • My art is going well. I have a feeling of satisfaction about it. Afternoons I stroll around the city [Paris] taking a good look at everything and trying to absorb it all.. .I went back to the Notre Dame again. Such wonderful Gothic detailing, those monstrous gargoyles, each one with its own character and face.. .Directly behind Notre Dame, almost encircled by the Seine, lies the morgue. Day after day they fish corpses from the river here, people who don't want to get on living.
    • In a letter to her sister Milly (Paris, 29 February 1900); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 200


  • Please let your 'hot-blooded iconoclasm' slumber a bit longer, and for a while permit me simply to be your Madonna. It's meant to be for your own good, do you believe that? Keep your mind on art, our gracious muse, dear. Let us both plan to paint all this week. And then early Saturday I shall come to you.
    • In a letter to her husband Otto Modersohn (after 12 September 1900); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 200


  • Is it true that all I ever write you about is painting and nothing else? Isn't there love in my lines to you and between the lines, shining and glowing and quiet and loving, the way a woman should love and the way your woman loves you?
    • In a letter to her husband Otto Modersohn (Berlin, 4 February 1901); as quoted in Voicing our visions, -Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 201


  • In the last few days I have been thinking very intensively about my art and I believe that things are progressing for me. I even think that I'm beginning to have a liaison with the sun. Not with the sun that divides everything up and puts shadows in everywhere and plucks the image into a thousand pieces, but with the sun that broods and makes things gray and heavy and combines them all in this gray heaviness so that they become one. I'm thinking about all of that very much and it lives within me besides my great love. A time has come when I think that I shall again be able to say something [in her painting] one day; I am again devout and full of expectation..
    • In a letter to her friend, the sculptress Clara Rilke-Westhoff, Worpswede, 13 May 1901; as quoted in ‘Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists’; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 201


  • Isn't love thousandfold? Isn't it like the sun that shines on everything? Must love be stingy? Must love give everything to one person and take from the others.. .I don't know much about the two of you [Rilke and Clara]; but it seems to me that you have shed too much of your old self and spread it out like a cloak so that your king [Rilke] can walk on it. I wish for your sake and for the world and for art [Clara is sculptress] and also for my sake that you would wear your own golden cape again..
    • In a letter to her friend, the sculptress Clara Rilke-Westhoff, Worpswede, 13 May 1901; as quoted in ‘Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists’; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 202


  • Someday I must be able to paint truly remarkable colors. Yesterday 1 held in my lap a wide, silver-gray satin ribbon which 1 edged with two narrower black, patterned silk ribbons. And I placed on top of these a plump, bottle-green velvet bow. I'd like to be able to paint something one day in those colors.
    • ‎her Journal (June 3, 1902); Günter Busch, ‎Liselotte von Reinken (1998) Paula Modersohn-Becker, the Letters and Journals p. 278


  • .. Mother, the dawn has broken in me and I can feel the day approaching. I'm going to become somebody. If only I had been able to show Father that my life has not been fishing in troubled waters, pointless; if only I had been able to repay him for the part of himself that he planted in me! I feel that the time is soon coming when I no longer have to be ashamed and remain silent, but when I feel with pride that I am a painter..
    • In a letter to her mother (Worpswede, 6 July 1902); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 202


  • Night and day I've been most intensely thinking about my painting, and I have been more or less satisfied with everything I've done. I'm slacking a little now, not working as much, and no longer so satisfied. But all in all, I still have a loftier and happier perspective on my art than I did in Worpswede. But it does demand a very, very great deal of me – working and sleeping in the same room with my paintings is a delight.. .When I wake up in the middle of the night, I jump out of bed and look at my work. And in the morning it's the first thing I see..
    • In a letter to Otto Modersohn (Paris, 15 May 1906); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 204


  • The time is getting closer for you to be coming [to Paula in Paris]. Now I must ask you for your sake and mine, please spare both of us this time of trial. Let me go, Otto w:Otto Modersohn. I do not want you as my husband.. ..accept this fact; don't torture yourself any longer.
    • Quote in ‎her Journal (Paris, September 3, 1906) Günter Busch, ‎Liselotte von Reinken (1998) Paula Modersohn-Becker, the Letters and Journals p. 278; as quoted in Stephanie D'Alessandro, ‎Milwaukee Art Museum (2003) German Expressionist Prints, p. 198


  • This past summer I realized that I am not the sort of woman to stand alone in life. Apart from the eternal worries about money, it is precisely the freedom I have had which was able to lure me away from myself. I would so much like to get to the point where I can create something that is me. It is up to the future to determine for us whether I'm acting bravely or not. The main thing now is peace and quiet for my work, and I have that most of all when I am at w:Otto Modersohn's side.
    • In a letter to her friend Clara Rilke-Westhoff (17 November 1906); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 206


  • The review was more a satisfaction to me than a joy. Joy, overpoweringly beautiful moments, comes to an artist without other noticing. The same is true for moments of sadness. That's why it is true that artists live mostly in solitude.. .Otto [Modersohn] and I shall be coming home [Worpswede] again in the spring. That man is touching in his love. We are going to try to buy the Brünjes place in order to make our lives together freer and more open.. .If the dear Lord will allow me once again to create something beautiful, then I shall be happy and satisfied; if only I have a place where I can work in peace. I will be grateful for the portion of love I've received. If one can remain healthy and not die too young..
    • In a letter to her sister Milly (Paris, 18 November 1906); as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 206


  • What I want to produce is something compelling, something full, an excitement and intoxication of color – something powerful. The paintings I did in Paris are too cool, too solitary and empty. They are the reaction to a restless and superficial period in my life and seem to strain for a simple, grand effect. I wanted to conquer Impressionism by trying to forget it. What happened was that it conquered me. We must work with digested and assimilated Impressionism..
    • In a letter to w:Bernhard Hoetger, Paris, Summer 1907; as quoted in Voicing our visions, – Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 207


  • My mind has been so much occupied these days by the thought of Cézanne, of how he has been one of the three or four powerful artists who have affected me like a thunderstorm, like some great event. Do you still remember what we saw at Vollard [art-seller in Paris who showed Cézanne's works frequently in his gallery] in 1900? And then, during the final days of my last stay in Paris, those truly astonishing early paintings of his at the Galerie Pellerin. Tell your husband [7 October 1907 Rilke started to write his famous series 'Letters on Cézanne' to his wife w:Clara Rilke-Westhoff ] he should see the things there.. .If it were not absolutely necessary [Paula was pregnant] for me to be here right now [Germany], nothing could keep me away from Paris.
    • In a letter to her friend Clara Rilke-Westhoff (Worpswede, October 21, 1907); as quoted in Voicing our visions, - Writings by women artists; ed. Mara R. Witzling, Universe New York, 1991, p. 208


  • We cleave to the past too much in Germany. All of our German art is too bogged down in the conventional.. .I think more highly of a free person who consciously puts convention aside.
    • As quoted in: Norbert Wolf, ‎Uta Grosenick (2004) Expressionism, p. 74


  • I want to give colors intoxication, fullness, excitement, power. By trying to forget Impressionism, I wanted to conquer it. In the process I was conquered. We must work with assimilated, digested Impressionism.
    • As quoted in: Ingo F. Walther (2000) Art of the 20th Century. Part 1, p. 49

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