The German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907) wasn’t interested in convention. In fact, she defied it, living and working as a professional artist at the turn of the 20th century, when women were expected to be just wives. Modersohn-Becker created portraits of women nursing their infants, walking in fields, and at rest in their rocking chairs. She also painted herself nude. As a leading museum director once observed, her subjects were not beautiful: “She lacks nearly everything that is needed to win hearts and flatter the casual glance.” Modersohn-Becker’s earthy palette and thick impasto rendered her imperfect subjects in a haunting, mortal light. Indeed, she herself died at 31 of an embolism, just 19 days after giving birth to her daughter Mathilde. The 120 paintings and drawings in this exhibition seem to touch modernity. —E.C.
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