Paula Modersohn-Becker: Modern Painting’s Missing Piece

That an artist of such gifts was a virtual unknown in North America seemed the more amazing given the dramatic details of her short, tragic life. As a marketing-minded gallery owner of today might put it, she had quite a story: famous friends (among them the poet Rainer Maria Rilke); a turbulent personal life (her marriage to an older, respected artist, Otto Modersohn, went unconsummated for years, and she had an eyebrow-raising affair that ended badly); struggles against poverty (like Van Gogh, she could never make any money selling her work); and, finally, an early death, at thirty-one, weeks after giving birth to her first and only child.

Efforts at winning for Modersohn-Becker a posthumous American fame cannot be said to have failed, since such efforts were never undertaken. That is, until the publication, this year, of the book “Paula Modersohn-Becker: The First Modern Woman Artist,” by the art historian

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