Stories and pictures

By Sipora Levy, February 27, 2013
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The poet and art critic, Sue Hubbard, has written a richly layered book about Paula Modersohn-Becker, a little-known but pioneering expressionist German painter of the early 20th century, whose tragically short life produced over 400 paintings and drawings of exceptional quality (Girl in White, Cinnamon Press, £8.99).

As an artist, she was determined to develop an authentic style, refusing to pander to the romantic fashion of the time. She lived and worked before the advent of psychoanalysis and women’s suffrage, though much of her work speaks of unconscious thoughts and feminist ideals.

She was driven by a passion for self-determination together with a wish for love and motherhood. She loved the solitude of the north German moors but was drawn repeatedly to Paris, the centre of the art world.

Paula Becker married the artist Otto Modersohn, 10 years her senior, but also had an intense relationship with the poet Raina Maria Rilke, husband of Paula’s friend Clara Westhoff, a sculptor.

In Hubbard’s moving imagining of Paula’s story, she creates a believable, parallel tale about Paula’s daughter Mathilde, a violinist. Apart from the fact that she was born in 1907, a few days before her mother’s death, little is known about Mathilde. In Hubbard’s account, she finds herself pregnant and abandoned by her married Jewish lover, Daniel, who flees Berlin with the rise of Nazism in 1933.

She then travels to Worpeswede, on the north German moors, so beloved by her mother, to try to come to terms with her mother’s life and her own.

Last updated: 3:56pm, February 27 2013