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Paula’s painted pregnancy

Modersohn-Becker, Paula. 'Self-portrait on her sixth wedding anniversary' 1906

Modersohn-Becker, Paula. ‘Self-portrait on her sixth wedding anniversary’ 1906

Paula Modersohn-Becker painted this self-portrait in 1906. It’s called Self-portrait on her sixth wedding anniversary and apart from being a fictional piece (Modersohn-Becker was not to fall pregnant until the following year and then she survived only three weeks after the birth) it’s a rare archetype.

Firstly, it’s a nude. Women rarely painted themselves nude, despite being so accustomed to seeing themselves naked in paintings by men.

Secondly, she’s pregnant. And yet, despite this most common of physical states in a woman’s life (particularly before the point of reliable contraception) there are very few examples of woman painting their pregnant portraits.

What interests me in particular about this piece is not the above points, but rather the look on Modersohn-Becker’s face. Even though she is looking at herself in the mirror, we as audience share in her disclosure – the most intimate of moments where she gazes at herself and sees her life moving into a new realm. She’s ‘sizing herself up’, stepping into the shoes of being a mother.

She paints herself without facade or mask. One of the many reasons self-portraits by women are so interesting. Link to the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum.


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