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Paula Modersohn-Becker: The First Modern Woman Artist Hardcover – April 30, 2013
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“Radycki's text is an incisive document that will speak to a range of audiences: art historians, feminists, artists, and those looking to the narrative of a creative woman—to help contemplate and forge their own future paths.”–Huffington Post (Huffington Post)
“Radycki makes a convincing case for seeing Paula Modersohn-Becker as the first modern woman artist. . . . Readers of this monograph therefore should be anyone interested in modern art, women artists, the profoundly new art of Modersohn-Becker, and the heady ferment of the times in which she lived and worked. . . .”–Art New England (Art New England)
The first major look at the life, work, and reception of a German painter who, in her brief career, became arguably the first significant woman artist in the history of modernism.
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Modersohn-Becker died at thirty-one, tragically, just after she'd completed a series of frontal nudes where she coyly posed as Eve. This qualifies her as an avatar of "personal iconography" and "body art". She had the body of an "earth mother"; she struggled mightily for her art, and many contemporary female artists identify with her. But that only partly explains why Diane Radycki (with the backing of Adrienne Rich) wants to elevate her above all her peers. Modersohn-Becker was traditional in some aspects (following the lead of Van Gogh and Gauguin) , and one can easily make the case that others of her generation (and before) were more radical. Specifically, I'm thinking of Romaine Brooks, who made much more pointed comments on gender in her paintings, and Suzanne Valadon, who was more daring in her subjects. Others female artists like Sonia Delauney and Georgia O'Keefe (both born 10 years after Modersohn-Becker) charted more individualistic routes beyond figurative painting.
The disqualifier for Brooks was her association with the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio, whereas Modersohn-Becker was friends with the more politically acceptable Rainer Maria Rilke. And Suzanne Valadon modeled for Renoir (ach! "The Male Gaze"!) , and drew her son Maurice Utrillo in the nude.
What I'm saying is that there are things that do not fit the narrative that art historians want to advance. Modersohn-Becker was a good artist, ahead of her time, but so were many others. I don't see any reason for her to be anointed as THE first modern woman (or feminist) artist, other than that it fits the maze of political correctness that has grown so immense in the art community.
I am a skeptic by nature, and I just wonder if all the art historians share a consensus about pronouncements like the one this book makes, or if there might be one or two who demure.