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“Marriage takes away hope”: How artist Paula Moderson-Becker sought a balance between family and work

At the end of the 19th century, the inhabitants of the German village of Vorpsvede only said that they were talking about eccentric artists who lived there. Young men and women wandered with sketchbooks in the vicinity of Vorpsveda, transferring stunted birch trees, small rivers and stale foliage to the canvas. The canvases of one of them, Otto Moderson, were seen at the exhibition by a young artist – Paula Becker – and this completely turned her life upside down.

Paula Becker was born in Dresden. Her father was an engineer, and her mother came from a noble family of von Bulttsingsleven. Parents devoted all their efforts to ensure that their three offspring received a good education and upbringing – but they thought very traditionally, so Paula had to study languages ​​and home economics.

However, going to study in the suburbs of London, active Paula did not waste time in vain and there she received an initial art education. After, still obeying the will of her parents, she graduated from teacher courses. At that time, a woman should not have dreamed of an artist’s career: state academies of women did not accept.

However, Paula continued to write and attended all the exhibitions that she could attend. Once her gaze lingered on a melancholy landscape, so fresh in comparison with the pathos of historical canvases that were written by members of art academies. Paula felt: this is exactly what her soul aspires to.
Soon she arrived at Vorpsveda to meet the author.

Nobody remembered their first meeting, and in letters Paula mentioned only in passing: “I saw Otto Moderson …”. But once he, a faithful husband and father, looking up from work, looked out the window and saw a girl in a dark dress walking arm in arm with an old woman from a local almshouse. Portraits of old women painted by Paula Becker are among the best works of German painting, and the heart of Otto Moderson from that moment belonged to a strange young artist.

Back at Worpsved, Paula met Clara Westhoff, Rainer’s future wife, Maria Rilke. Clara successfully engaged in sculpture, and together the girls went to France, where they ended up in the heart of the artistic life of Europe. They studied hard and also diligently absorbed the experience of other artists, listened to discussions, made acquaintances … There, at the World Exhibition in Paris, a new meeting between Paula and Otto Moderson took place.

Otto received sad news from his homeland, his wife passed away. He hastily returned to Germany, but already three months later interrupted the mourning for his deceased wife. Paula and Otto got married.

The first three years of marriage, they both recognized as happy – Paula tried her best to be a good wife and mother to her adopted daughter, Otto contributed to the creative fulfillment of his wife. At the same time, Paula is experiencing the first creative crisis, realizing the limited possibilities of landscape painting.

She turns more and more to portraiture, overcoming the artistic language adopted by her at Vorpsved, repeatedly writes her adopted daughter Elsbet against the backdrop of German nature, self-portraits.

Such changes are met by a misunderstanding of Otto Moderson, in which she sought a soul mate and absolute acceptance.

The loneliness of Paula, whose work is almost not exhibited, becomes suffocating. She writes: “My experience says that marriage does not make happier. It takes away the illusion that previously fed your whole being about the existence of a kindred spirit. ”

Paula painfully meets with criticism of Otto, who does not understand that he is hurting her. He quite honestly believed that it only helps to reveal the creative genius of Paula. A few years later, he admits that he drew a lot from her work and, recalling his past “advice”, he would say: “She was in everything, in everything, right.”

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