Making Modernism is the first major UK exhibition devoted to women artists working in Germany in the early 20th century. Although less familiar than their male counterparts, these artists were central to the development and dissemination of modernism. The show includes 65 paintings and works on paper primarily by Paula Modersohn- Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin, with additional works by Erma Bossi and Jacoba van Heemskerck. 

    Seen through the lens of these artists, key themes of modernism such as self-portraiture, still-life and urban and rural scenes are revaluated, with the attention focused on the female body, childhood, and maternal experience, themes that resonate with today’s concerns about identity, representation and belonging. The exhibition is arranged thematically, beginning with Ourselves and Others, where self-portraits and portraits, show the increasing participation of women artists in public life, revealing their crucial role in creating and sustaining the networks that supported various aspects of emergent modernism in Germany. 

    Portrait of Marianne Werefkin by Erma Bossi, c. 1910. Oil on cardboard, 71.6 x 58 cm. Gabriele Munter- und Johannes Eichner-Stiftung, Munich. 

    Paintings include Erma Bossi’s Portrait of Marianne Werefkin, 1910 (Gabriele Munter- und Johannes Eichner-Stiftung, Munich) and Gabriele Münter’s Portrait of Anna Roslund, 1917 (Leicester Museums and Galleries, UK). The Century of the Child, titled after Swedish writer Ellen Key’s influential 1900 publication, explores how each of the artists depicted children. Although domestic themes were an established genre, modernist treatments of such subjects depart from sentimental works to explore melancholy, tension, curiosity, and unfulfilled desire. Many artworks reflect the fact that women artists’ desire to work was frequently tested by the social expectation that demanded they marry and devote themselves to producing a family. Paintings and drawings include Werefkin’s Twins, 1909 (Fondazione Marianne Werefkin, Museo Comunale d’Arte Moderna, Ascona), Kollwitz’s Woman with Dead Child, 1903 (Käthe Kollwitz Museum, Köln) Modersohn-Becker’s Girl with Child, 1902 (Kunstmuseum Den Haag, The Hague), and Münter’s Portrait of a Boy (Willi Blabb), 1908/09 (Gabriele Münter- und Johannes Eichner-Stiftung, Munich). 

    Mother with Child on her Arm, Nude II, by Paula Modershohn-Becker, autumn 1906. Oil on canvas, 80 x 59 cm. Museum Ostwall im Dortmunder U. 

    Sites of Intimacy delves into the inner lives of Modersohn-Becker and Kollwitz, further exploring maternal instinct as well as the female body and eroticism. In these works, the mother and child theme is secularised and modernised to reflect the physicality and psychological depth of the choices surrounding motherhood. Images established through masculine representations of the female nude are overturned. Here we find Kollwitz’s Love Scene I, c.1909/1910 (Käthe Kollwitz Museum, Köln), Ottilie Reyaender’s Beta naked, c. 1900 (Worpsweder Kunststiftung Friedrich Netzel, Worpsweder Kunsthalle) and Modersohn-Becker’s Mother with Child on her Arm, Nude II, autumn 1906 (Museum Ostwall im Dortmunder U, Dortmund) and Self-portrait as a Standing Nude with Hat, summer 1906 (Paula- Modersohn-Becker-Stiftung, Bremen, on loan from a private collection). 

    City and Country: Journeys and Migrations presents paintings of urban life and explores changing roles for women in a variety of contexts, including the artists’ search for refuge in rural areas to produce art that celebrated the natural beauty of the countryside. 

    Portrait of Anna Roslund by Gabriele Münter, 1917. Oil on canvas, 94 x 68 cm. Leicester Museums & Galleries. 

    The final part of the exhibition considers the significant role of still life in the work of these artists. The concept of “still lives” suggests quiet moments of reflection and meditation recorded by the artists in their letters, diaries, and journals. 

    Making Modernism 
    The Royal Academy of Arts. Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD 
    12th November 2022 to 12th February 2023
    For tickets, visit HERE.

    Words: Lavinia Dickson-Robinson 
    Opening picture: Marianne Werefkin, Twins, 1909. Tempera on paper, 27.5 x 36.5 cm. Fondazione Marianne Werefkin, Museo Comunale d’Arte Moderna, Ascona.

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