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Diane Radycki

Paula Modersohn-Becker: The First Modern Woman Artist

Paula Modersohn-BeckerIn the first American publication on the German modernist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker in over two decades, Diane Radycki’s new book is part biography, reception history, and visual analysis of the artist’s life and work.

Radycki, an associate professor at Moravian College, and director of the Payne Gallery, has authored Paula Modersohn-Becker: The First Modern Woman Artist, (Yale University Press, 2013). She examines the artist’s compelling biography: her professional struggles; her personal anguish, including her irresolution about motherhood; and her friendships with the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the sculptor Clara Rilke-Westhoff. Tragically, her life and art were cut short at age thirty-one, following complications from childbirth.

“Now considered one of the most important of early German modernists, the painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907) was a daring innovator of gender imagery—the first woman artist to challenge centuries of traditional representations of the female body in art’” Radycki noted. “The first to paint herself nude and the first to paint mothers and their children nude, she also painted self-portraits while she was pregnant. Modersohn-Becker painted the life she was living as a woman and modern artist--and led the way for generations of women artists to come. It has taken a century of women artists whose work challenges sexuality, culture, and artistic tradition to recognize fully what she pioneered.”

Radycki also analyzes the painter’s work—figure (especially nudes), still life, and landscape—and details the rise of her reputation, from obscurity following her death in 1907 to notoriety in the infamous Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937.

Diane Radycki is an art historian (Ph.D. Harvard University, 1993) and specializes in European art from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. Her scholarship focuses on the work of women artists in this period. A recipient of Fulbright and AAUW (American Association of University Women) fellowships, she was awarded a Millard Meiss Publication Fund grant by the College Art Association for the monograph Paula Modersohn-Becker: The First Modern Woman Artist (Yale University Press, 2013). Radycki served as the first American translator and editor of The Letters and Journals of Paula Modersohn-Becker (1980).

Currently she is preparing the literary estate of the American artist and critic Sidney Tillim (1925–2001) for donation to the New York Public Library. Tillim’s papers document both his long exhibition career and his years as a contributing editor writing for Artforum and Arts magazines, etc. Of special importance are fifty volumes of journals that cover the New York art scene during the second half of the twentieth-century.

Radycki will give a lecture at the University of Notre Dame on October 30, at the invitation of the Department of German and Russian, on the life and work of Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907), the pioneering artist who challenged traditional representations of the female body in art.

Alessandra Comini, distinguished emerita professor of art history at Southern Methodist University, provides a glowing review of the book. “Masterful. Diane Radycki provides a persuasive and revelatory argument for the title of her book pronouncing Paula Modersohn-Becker as “The First Modern Woman Artist.” There is no book I know of that has as keen a cutting edge into the artist’s motivations while at the same time placing her convincingly as an important early 20th-century “modern” woman artist. Her short life and growing posthumous fame are brilliantly juxtaposed.”

The Huffington Post named the book, one of “15 of the Best Releases,” in the Art Books Category. The book was named “book of the week” by bookslut.com, which noted, “Diane Radycki's Paula Modersohn-Becker … brings Modersohn-Becker more fully to life, adding a darker tone to the relentlessly cheerful letters she sent home to worried parents. And the paintings and sketches are all beautifully reproduced, introducing us all to this important and beautiful painter.”

The Library Journal said, “This book elegantly reveals its subject’s life and work; recommended for anyone interested in German Expressionism and women artists.” Alicia Faxon from Art New England, "Radycki makes a convincing case for seeing Paula Modersohn-Becker as the first modern woman artist. . . . Readers of this monograph therefore should be anyone interested in modern art, women artists, the profoundly new art of Modersohn-Becker, and the heady ferment of the times in which she lived and worked. . . ."

Moravian College is a private, coeducational, selective liberal arts college located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Tracing its founding to 1742, it is recognized as America’s sixth-oldest college. Moravian partners with students to build a strong foundation for their future. Visit the College’s website at www.moravian.edu.