Being Here Is Everything: The Life of Paula M. Becker

Marie Darrieussecq, trans. from the French by Penny Hueston. Semiotext(e), $17.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-63590-008-8
Drawing on the letters and journals of her subject, Darrieussecq (Men) affectionately traces the brief life of German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907), who is now recognized as a leading 20th-century expressionist despite selling only three paintings in her lifetime. Trained at the Académie Colarossi and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Modersohn-Becker—always referred to as “Paula” in the text—pursued art single-mindedly, producing over 80 paintings annually at her peak. Though she frequented Paris to immerse herself in its galleries and museums, she lived primarily in Germany and often slept in her Worpswede studio. After a period of fervent and prolific creativity in 1906, her work received generous critical praise at group exhibition at the Bremen Art Museum. She died the following year at age 31. Darrieussecq frames her subject as an independent free spirit, a sort of real-life heroine from Virginia Wolfe or Henrik Ibsen, determinedly making art that flouted centuries-old expectations of the male gaze. In Modersohn-Becker’s many sensitive portraits of women (including a nude self-portrait, the first by a woman in the known history of art), the author finds an unidealized, tender authenticity that is rare among the myriads of Madonnas and Venuses. Darrieussecq’s writing is poetic and stylized; the tableau unfolds sometimes in one-sentence paragraphs and one-word sentences, and always in the present tense. Clearly written for a broad audience, this book will renew appreciation for a deserving artist who’s too often reduced to a mere passing mention in art-history textbooks. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/21/2017
Release date: 10/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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