The Body of the Woman Artist - Paula Modersohn-Becker and Rainer Maria Rilke on Giving Birth and Art
Title: The Body of the Woman Artist - Paula Modersohn-Becker and Rainer Maria Rilke on Giving Birth and Art
Author: HÄNSCH, Anja
Citation: European Journal of Womens Studies, 1997, 4, 4, 435-&
The painter Paula Modersohn-Becker died in 1907, a fortnight after she had given birth to her daughter Mathilde. In 1908, Rainer Maria Rilke dedicated to her the, in the aftermath very famous, poem 'Requiem for a Friend', which is generally treated as a kind of pleasant illustration of Paula Modersohn-Becker's work and personality. Nevertheless, taking a closer look at the poem, it seems that the attitudes of the poet towards women, giving birth, motherhood, life, death and art are quite different to the ones Paula Modersohn-Becker herself had assumed during her lifetime. To show this difference three of the artist's self-portraits depicting her as a pregnant woman are analysed and compared to the Rilke poem. The analysis shows that Rilke and Modersohn-Becker had different ways of constructing the identity of a woman artist. Rilke excluded the female body and female fertility from an identity formation of the woman artist and discarded corporeality in general as a means for the artist to connect him-or herself to the realm of spirituality. In contrast to this, Paula Modersohn-Becker saw no contradictions between her being an artist, being pregnant and her understanding of spirituality.
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