22/11/2022
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Exhibition Review: Making Modernism at the Royal Academy
Our take on the Royal Academy's new exhibition, spotlighting the unsung heroines of the art movement

Kinder, Küche, Kirche: three words which anchored the German women's social position to their body and biology. So when women artists started depicting domestic interiors as spaces to exchange ideas – and their own natures and portraits, not traditional landscapes or still lifes – they were radically reclaiming these sites as their own.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) is the most famous, and internationally represented, of the artists in Making Modernism, the first UK exhibition devoted to the women practising in Germany in the early 1900s, their contributions to 20th century Modernism hidden in history.

Drawing working class women from a staunchly socialist perspective, Kollwitz’s dark figurative works are a violent departure from the more bourgeois subjects of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Gabriele Münter, and Russian aristocrat Marianne von Werefkin. ‘Representing the joyous side simply did not appeal to me,’ she writes, though warmth is still carved into the deepest wounds of her charcoals and woodcuts.

Making Modernism takes a considered, intersectional approach to privilege, openly acknowledging how women’s admission remained restricted – to those with men artists in the family, access to private lessons, or Ladies’ Academies from the new Association of Women Artists. Others seized the opportunity to travel to cities, or rural artists’ colonies, where they often defied authority together. 

We learn by osmosis of their positionalities and prejudices in different environments, especially their fascination with androgynous and alternative subjects. Münter’s ‘Portrait of a Woman’ (1930), created from a memory of a Black woman on a train, is renamed to acknowledge racial differences in the movement.

But above all, we feel their thirst to drink it all in. These women share a less voyeuristic, and more absorptive, attitude towards their surroundings than their men contemporaries. We are with them as they copy classical portraits in museums, visit the Parisian studios of their favoured sculptors and post-Impressionists, and fuse them together in their own Expressionist, but timeless, aspects.

Self-portrait in Front of Window with View of Parisian Houses, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1900)

When Modersohn-Becker ascends, backed up by buildings, from the Campagne Première in Montparnasse, we see her painting herself in as part of the Parisian architecture – and by extension, its art history.  

Nose and chin aloft, she ‘breath[es] in the fresh air from the open window, aligns herself with the city’s modernity.’ The artist left her husband, who was frightened by the influence of French modernism, soon afterwards. 

Both Münter and Werefkin have long been swallowed into the histories of their partners, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky. But here, this isn’t the case; an experimental portrait of Clara Westhoff – a pioneering sculptor and artist – speaks first of her profession and creative relationship with Modersohn-Becker. Her married name, Rilke-Westhoff, and relationship with the Modernist writer Rainer Maria Rilke (through whom the two met Auguste Rodin) is addressed afterwards. It’s a subtle curatorial decision, but one that does as much heavy lifting as a double-barrelled name. 

Indeed, there’s a quiet power to all these captions, subverting the typical order of affairs in a women-first narrative. Take The German Woman at the Turn of the Century (1904) and Swedish feminist Ellen Key’s The Century of the Child (1900), both referenced before Sigmund Freud. This shouldn’t seem radical or progressive but, in the context of other UK arts exhibitions, it is.

Powerful wording mirrors the heroic and tragic stories of their subjects – including Modersohn-Becker, who died of a pregnancy-related pulmonary embolism shortly after returning to her husband. Simple themes, stark white and red walls, and quote-led captions all let the women’s works speak for themselves, as well as in conversation with each other. In ‘Intimacy’, Modersohn-Becker and Kollwitz are curated in conversation. 

Ottilie Reylaender (one of three other influencers, with Erma Bossi and Jacoba van Heemskercks) is placed opposite. A child herself, she practically follows Modersohn-Becker to Worpswede, coming across almost as a 20th century fangirl, ‘magnetically drawn’ to her corrupting influence against their teachers.

All of these women engaged with Expressionism; Münter and Werefkin were founder members of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists' Association Munich, NKVM) in 1909, which spawned the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an avant-garde Expressionist group, and the first modernist secession. Most were members of multiple groups, or exhibited across them. In 1924, Werefkin was inspired to establish another, The Great Bear, in her locale of Ascona, Switzerland. 

Their paintings share the quality of hybridity, between rural and urban environments, and constant reinvention. Never static, they were ‘continually reinventing their approach in response to their surroundings.’ Using similar media with different intentions – Kollwitz called self-portraiture a ‘visual form of soliloquy’– it’s a privilege to see a plurality of women’s experiences, as travellers, debaters, and workers.  

One theme – ‘The Century of the Child’ – explicitly focuses on the enduring expectation that mothers suspend their artistic careers for childbirth, with the baby standing as a complex symbol of joy, but also individual loss. (The idea is best articulated by Kollwitz later, in a work which shows a woman torn between the birth of her child’s life, and the death of her own.)

Death and Woman, Käthe Kollwitz (1910)

Biography matters in the history of Expressionism. And Making Modernism speaks to how these artists used their practice for personal liberation from the ideas and structures which confined feminism to the domestic sphere. These women – whose parents often saw their education as a contingency plan, in case of no marriage – grappled with sexism and misogyny in society, and amongst their men peers in the art movement.

Curating by theme and community rather than by artist allows for connections, and for different artists to come to the fore in different rooms. It’s a radical approach, which demands viewers reimagine outdated tropes. Still-lives are reclaimed, no longer a derogatory term, but an acknowledgement of the value of peace and confidence in the context of sociopolitical turmoil. It’s a stark contrast to the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype faced by their forebears like Van Gogh, and the typical great man narrative of the hero artist perpetuated in other shows. 

The cost is that their personal identities and journeys, scattered between works, are hard to follow and overwhelming to process. This sometimes-confusing path shouldn’t make them any less trailblazers. Biographies in the accompanying booklet help. The exhibition perhaps contains some blind spots; Hannah Höch, Dadaist and pioneer of photomontage and political collages, would be a welcome addition (not replacement) to the artists here. 

Not only did these artists not passively internalise traditions, but beat them back over the head with their own sticks. This manifests in a plurality of forms, from Kollwitz’s existential etchings to Modersohn-Becker’s life-size nudes, referencing fruits and flowers from the northern Renaissance Old Masters as Albrecht Dürer, in bold, simplified form. 

More subversive humour comes in the small, tightly-cropped paintings of everyday life. The personal is political, and we can’t help but feel Münter poking fun at sexist stereotypes with her photographic eye. Putting such a ‘minor’ work on the exhibition book might be a step too far – but isn’t that the point?

Still-life on the Tram (After Shopping), Gabriele Münter (c. 1912)

Whilst inspired by the metropolis, most of these women eventually opted for more rural locations and villages. It is here where Marianne Werefkin, ambivalent in the previous rooms, becomes the show’s ‘revelation’.

From her ‘elite’ (or rather, privileged) position, she paints the ‘recurring, rhythmic forms of the hunched figures’ around her, their ‘solidarity’ in the face of repetitive daily routines. Werefkin’s lurid neon landscapes and sarcastic titles suggest the colour to be found in these environments – and poke fun at those who fail to do so.

Life Behind Them, Marianne von Werefkin (1928)

Perhaps Picasso, Epstein, and Freud outweigh the contributions of these women to the movement, but their canonisation has inspired some less critical curation. Take Lucian Freud: New Perspectives, currently on show at the National Gallery. It euphemistically refers to his ‘controversial’ lifestyle, and leaves depictions of his daughters naked unlabelled, unnamed. 

By contrast, Making Modernism engages with the ethics of these artists using local children as models. Even the youngest women have agency. ‘Oh no, I ain’t doing none of that,’ says Elsbeth, Modersohn-Becker’s stepdaughter. The artist writes of this ‘spirited little person’ in her diary, and ‘hating the seducer in me’, in successfully bribing her to sit with a mark. This gendered language subtly speaks volumes of the sexual hierarchies in contemporary society. 

LEFT: Seated Nude Girl, Her Legs Pulled Up, Paula Modersohn-Becker (c. 1904) | RIGHT: Beta Naked, Ottilie Reylaender (c. 1900)

We are right to ask such questions, including why these individuals never receive solo exhibitions, when William Kentridge’s charcoals now span seventeen rooms across the main space. It’s a privilege reserved for Marina Abramović, who will be the first woman to exhibit alone across the RA’s entire main galleries next year.

‘What defines modern art is the participation of women, not just the style,’ says US art historian Diane Radycki. And Gabriele Münter – whose instantaneous works echo Alice Neel, fifty years before her time – certainly participated. When she first met Kandinsky, her tutor at art school, he was relatively unknown. But her canon is Rolodex of contacts, boasting her connections to Herwarth Walden, Der Sturm, and Paul Klee.

Man in an Armchair (Paul Klee), Gabriele Münter (1913)

She paints him, unnamed, in the house she purchased, a hybrid self-portrait and interior where her own presence is indicated by the empty chair. It’s a nod to Van Gogh, painted in her own ‘Yellow House’. (Post-impressionism affected Modersohn-Becker ‘like a thunderstorm’, her ‘Nude Girl with Flower Vases’ a clear homage to Paul Gauguin.) It’s also where they would hide and protect a significant amount of Nazi Degenerate Art, later donated to the Lenbachhaus Museum in Munich. 

Though engaged in contemporary struggles of their own, these artists thought in the longer term. Making Modernism merely enacts their efforts to entrench themselves in their networks and in art history, pushing back against the potential posthumous obscurity.

Kollwitz is notably absent from the final room. But her presence is felt: ‘By placing female subjectivity at the core of her practice, she, like Modersohn-Becker, Münter, and Werefkin, was instrumental in blazing a trail for Expressionist art, and in shaping the course of Modernism.’ It’s a stunning conclusion to an exhibition that one cannot leave unchanged.

When Radycki first saw Paula Modersohn-Becker’s art, photographed by her lecturer on a trip to Europe, she could ‘rely only on her eyes’ for its interpretation. By the time she was writing her dissertation in the 1980s, forty years after those photographs were taken, still nothing had been published on the artist in the English language. 

Making Modernism speaks directly to how women must fight to be included in art history. The parallels today are clear, for those who choose to see them.

Making Modernism: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin is on view at the Royal Academy until 12 February 2023. Free viewings for young people under 25 take place every Friday until 9pm. 

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
22/11/2022
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Exhibition Review: Making Modernism at the Royal Academy
Our take on the Royal Academy's new exhibition, spotlighting the unsung heroines of the art movement

Kinder, Küche, Kirche: three words which anchored the German women's social position to their body and biology. So when women artists started depicting domestic interiors as spaces to exchange ideas – and their own natures and portraits, not traditional landscapes or still lifes – they were radically reclaiming these sites as their own.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) is the most famous, and internationally represented, of the artists in Making Modernism, the first UK exhibition devoted to the women practising in Germany in the early 1900s, their contributions to 20th century Modernism hidden in history.

Drawing working class women from a staunchly socialist perspective, Kollwitz’s dark figurative works are a violent departure from the more bourgeois subjects of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Gabriele Münter, and Russian aristocrat Marianne von Werefkin. ‘Representing the joyous side simply did not appeal to me,’ she writes, though warmth is still carved into the deepest wounds of her charcoals and woodcuts.

Making Modernism takes a considered, intersectional approach to privilege, openly acknowledging how women’s admission remained restricted – to those with men artists in the family, access to private lessons, or Ladies’ Academies from the new Association of Women Artists. Others seized the opportunity to travel to cities, or rural artists’ colonies, where they often defied authority together. 

We learn by osmosis of their positionalities and prejudices in different environments, especially their fascination with androgynous and alternative subjects. Münter’s ‘Portrait of a Woman’ (1930), created from a memory of a Black woman on a train, is renamed to acknowledge racial differences in the movement.

But above all, we feel their thirst to drink it all in. These women share a less voyeuristic, and more absorptive, attitude towards their surroundings than their men contemporaries. We are with them as they copy classical portraits in museums, visit the Parisian studios of their favoured sculptors and post-Impressionists, and fuse them together in their own Expressionist, but timeless, aspects.

Self-portrait in Front of Window with View of Parisian Houses, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1900)

When Modersohn-Becker ascends, backed up by buildings, from the Campagne Première in Montparnasse, we see her painting herself in as part of the Parisian architecture – and by extension, its art history.  

Nose and chin aloft, she ‘breath[es] in the fresh air from the open window, aligns herself with the city’s modernity.’ The artist left her husband, who was frightened by the influence of French modernism, soon afterwards. 

Both Münter and Werefkin have long been swallowed into the histories of their partners, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky. But here, this isn’t the case; an experimental portrait of Clara Westhoff – a pioneering sculptor and artist – speaks first of her profession and creative relationship with Modersohn-Becker. Her married name, Rilke-Westhoff, and relationship with the Modernist writer Rainer Maria Rilke (through whom the two met Auguste Rodin) is addressed afterwards. It’s a subtle curatorial decision, but one that does as much heavy lifting as a double-barrelled name. 

Indeed, there’s a quiet power to all these captions, subverting the typical order of affairs in a women-first narrative. Take The German Woman at the Turn of the Century (1904) and Swedish feminist Ellen Key’s The Century of the Child (1900), both referenced before Sigmund Freud. This shouldn’t seem radical or progressive but, in the context of other UK arts exhibitions, it is.

Powerful wording mirrors the heroic and tragic stories of their subjects – including Modersohn-Becker, who died of a pregnancy-related pulmonary embolism shortly after returning to her husband. Simple themes, stark white and red walls, and quote-led captions all let the women’s works speak for themselves, as well as in conversation with each other. In ‘Intimacy’, Modersohn-Becker and Kollwitz are curated in conversation. 

Ottilie Reylaender (one of three other influencers, with Erma Bossi and Jacoba van Heemskercks) is placed opposite. A child herself, she practically follows Modersohn-Becker to Worpswede, coming across almost as a 20th century fangirl, ‘magnetically drawn’ to her corrupting influence against their teachers.

All of these women engaged with Expressionism; Münter and Werefkin were founder members of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists' Association Munich, NKVM) in 1909, which spawned the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an avant-garde Expressionist group, and the first modernist secession. Most were members of multiple groups, or exhibited across them. In 1924, Werefkin was inspired to establish another, The Great Bear, in her locale of Ascona, Switzerland. 

Their paintings share the quality of hybridity, between rural and urban environments, and constant reinvention. Never static, they were ‘continually reinventing their approach in response to their surroundings.’ Using similar media with different intentions – Kollwitz called self-portraiture a ‘visual form of soliloquy’– it’s a privilege to see a plurality of women’s experiences, as travellers, debaters, and workers.  

One theme – ‘The Century of the Child’ – explicitly focuses on the enduring expectation that mothers suspend their artistic careers for childbirth, with the baby standing as a complex symbol of joy, but also individual loss. (The idea is best articulated by Kollwitz later, in a work which shows a woman torn between the birth of her child’s life, and the death of her own.)

Death and Woman, Käthe Kollwitz (1910)

Biography matters in the history of Expressionism. And Making Modernism speaks to how these artists used their practice for personal liberation from the ideas and structures which confined feminism to the domestic sphere. These women – whose parents often saw their education as a contingency plan, in case of no marriage – grappled with sexism and misogyny in society, and amongst their men peers in the art movement.

Curating by theme and community rather than by artist allows for connections, and for different artists to come to the fore in different rooms. It’s a radical approach, which demands viewers reimagine outdated tropes. Still-lives are reclaimed, no longer a derogatory term, but an acknowledgement of the value of peace and confidence in the context of sociopolitical turmoil. It’s a stark contrast to the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype faced by their forebears like Van Gogh, and the typical great man narrative of the hero artist perpetuated in other shows. 

The cost is that their personal identities and journeys, scattered between works, are hard to follow and overwhelming to process. This sometimes-confusing path shouldn’t make them any less trailblazers. Biographies in the accompanying booklet help. The exhibition perhaps contains some blind spots; Hannah Höch, Dadaist and pioneer of photomontage and political collages, would be a welcome addition (not replacement) to the artists here. 

Not only did these artists not passively internalise traditions, but beat them back over the head with their own sticks. This manifests in a plurality of forms, from Kollwitz’s existential etchings to Modersohn-Becker’s life-size nudes, referencing fruits and flowers from the northern Renaissance Old Masters as Albrecht Dürer, in bold, simplified form. 

More subversive humour comes in the small, tightly-cropped paintings of everyday life. The personal is political, and we can’t help but feel Münter poking fun at sexist stereotypes with her photographic eye. Putting such a ‘minor’ work on the exhibition book might be a step too far – but isn’t that the point?

Still-life on the Tram (After Shopping), Gabriele Münter (c. 1912)

Whilst inspired by the metropolis, most of these women eventually opted for more rural locations and villages. It is here where Marianne Werefkin, ambivalent in the previous rooms, becomes the show’s ‘revelation’.

From her ‘elite’ (or rather, privileged) position, she paints the ‘recurring, rhythmic forms of the hunched figures’ around her, their ‘solidarity’ in the face of repetitive daily routines. Werefkin’s lurid neon landscapes and sarcastic titles suggest the colour to be found in these environments – and poke fun at those who fail to do so.

Life Behind Them, Marianne von Werefkin (1928)

Perhaps Picasso, Epstein, and Freud outweigh the contributions of these women to the movement, but their canonisation has inspired some less critical curation. Take Lucian Freud: New Perspectives, currently on show at the National Gallery. It euphemistically refers to his ‘controversial’ lifestyle, and leaves depictions of his daughters naked unlabelled, unnamed. 

By contrast, Making Modernism engages with the ethics of these artists using local children as models. Even the youngest women have agency. ‘Oh no, I ain’t doing none of that,’ says Elsbeth, Modersohn-Becker’s stepdaughter. The artist writes of this ‘spirited little person’ in her diary, and ‘hating the seducer in me’, in successfully bribing her to sit with a mark. This gendered language subtly speaks volumes of the sexual hierarchies in contemporary society. 

LEFT: Seated Nude Girl, Her Legs Pulled Up, Paula Modersohn-Becker (c. 1904) | RIGHT: Beta Naked, Ottilie Reylaender (c. 1900)

We are right to ask such questions, including why these individuals never receive solo exhibitions, when William Kentridge’s charcoals now span seventeen rooms across the main space. It’s a privilege reserved for Marina Abramović, who will be the first woman to exhibit alone across the RA’s entire main galleries next year.

‘What defines modern art is the participation of women, not just the style,’ says US art historian Diane Radycki. And Gabriele Münter – whose instantaneous works echo Alice Neel, fifty years before her time – certainly participated. When she first met Kandinsky, her tutor at art school, he was relatively unknown. But her canon is Rolodex of contacts, boasting her connections to Herwarth Walden, Der Sturm, and Paul Klee.

Man in an Armchair (Paul Klee), Gabriele Münter (1913)

She paints him, unnamed, in the house she purchased, a hybrid self-portrait and interior where her own presence is indicated by the empty chair. It’s a nod to Van Gogh, painted in her own ‘Yellow House’. (Post-impressionism affected Modersohn-Becker ‘like a thunderstorm’, her ‘Nude Girl with Flower Vases’ a clear homage to Paul Gauguin.) It’s also where they would hide and protect a significant amount of Nazi Degenerate Art, later donated to the Lenbachhaus Museum in Munich. 

Though engaged in contemporary struggles of their own, these artists thought in the longer term. Making Modernism merely enacts their efforts to entrench themselves in their networks and in art history, pushing back against the potential posthumous obscurity.

Kollwitz is notably absent from the final room. But her presence is felt: ‘By placing female subjectivity at the core of her practice, she, like Modersohn-Becker, Münter, and Werefkin, was instrumental in blazing a trail for Expressionist art, and in shaping the course of Modernism.’ It’s a stunning conclusion to an exhibition that one cannot leave unchanged.

When Radycki first saw Paula Modersohn-Becker’s art, photographed by her lecturer on a trip to Europe, she could ‘rely only on her eyes’ for its interpretation. By the time she was writing her dissertation in the 1980s, forty years after those photographs were taken, still nothing had been published on the artist in the English language. 

Making Modernism speaks directly to how women must fight to be included in art history. The parallels today are clear, for those who choose to see them.

Making Modernism: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin is on view at the Royal Academy until 12 February 2023. Free viewings for young people under 25 take place every Friday until 9pm. 

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
22/11/2022
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Exhibition Review: Making Modernism at the Royal Academy
Our take on the Royal Academy's new exhibition, spotlighting the unsung heroines of the art movement

Kinder, Küche, Kirche: three words which anchored the German women's social position to their body and biology. So when women artists started depicting domestic interiors as spaces to exchange ideas – and their own natures and portraits, not traditional landscapes or still lifes – they were radically reclaiming these sites as their own.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) is the most famous, and internationally represented, of the artists in Making Modernism, the first UK exhibition devoted to the women practising in Germany in the early 1900s, their contributions to 20th century Modernism hidden in history.

Drawing working class women from a staunchly socialist perspective, Kollwitz’s dark figurative works are a violent departure from the more bourgeois subjects of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Gabriele Münter, and Russian aristocrat Marianne von Werefkin. ‘Representing the joyous side simply did not appeal to me,’ she writes, though warmth is still carved into the deepest wounds of her charcoals and woodcuts.

Making Modernism takes a considered, intersectional approach to privilege, openly acknowledging how women’s admission remained restricted – to those with men artists in the family, access to private lessons, or Ladies’ Academies from the new Association of Women Artists. Others seized the opportunity to travel to cities, or rural artists’ colonies, where they often defied authority together. 

We learn by osmosis of their positionalities and prejudices in different environments, especially their fascination with androgynous and alternative subjects. Münter’s ‘Portrait of a Woman’ (1930), created from a memory of a Black woman on a train, is renamed to acknowledge racial differences in the movement.

But above all, we feel their thirst to drink it all in. These women share a less voyeuristic, and more absorptive, attitude towards their surroundings than their men contemporaries. We are with them as they copy classical portraits in museums, visit the Parisian studios of their favoured sculptors and post-Impressionists, and fuse them together in their own Expressionist, but timeless, aspects.

Self-portrait in Front of Window with View of Parisian Houses, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1900)

When Modersohn-Becker ascends, backed up by buildings, from the Campagne Première in Montparnasse, we see her painting herself in as part of the Parisian architecture – and by extension, its art history.  

Nose and chin aloft, she ‘breath[es] in the fresh air from the open window, aligns herself with the city’s modernity.’ The artist left her husband, who was frightened by the influence of French modernism, soon afterwards. 

Both Münter and Werefkin have long been swallowed into the histories of their partners, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky. But here, this isn’t the case; an experimental portrait of Clara Westhoff – a pioneering sculptor and artist – speaks first of her profession and creative relationship with Modersohn-Becker. Her married name, Rilke-Westhoff, and relationship with the Modernist writer Rainer Maria Rilke (through whom the two met Auguste Rodin) is addressed afterwards. It’s a subtle curatorial decision, but one that does as much heavy lifting as a double-barrelled name. 

Indeed, there’s a quiet power to all these captions, subverting the typical order of affairs in a women-first narrative. Take The German Woman at the Turn of the Century (1904) and Swedish feminist Ellen Key’s The Century of the Child (1900), both referenced before Sigmund Freud. This shouldn’t seem radical or progressive but, in the context of other UK arts exhibitions, it is.

Powerful wording mirrors the heroic and tragic stories of their subjects – including Modersohn-Becker, who died of a pregnancy-related pulmonary embolism shortly after returning to her husband. Simple themes, stark white and red walls, and quote-led captions all let the women’s works speak for themselves, as well as in conversation with each other. In ‘Intimacy’, Modersohn-Becker and Kollwitz are curated in conversation. 

Ottilie Reylaender (one of three other influencers, with Erma Bossi and Jacoba van Heemskercks) is placed opposite. A child herself, she practically follows Modersohn-Becker to Worpswede, coming across almost as a 20th century fangirl, ‘magnetically drawn’ to her corrupting influence against their teachers.

All of these women engaged with Expressionism; Münter and Werefkin were founder members of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists' Association Munich, NKVM) in 1909, which spawned the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an avant-garde Expressionist group, and the first modernist secession. Most were members of multiple groups, or exhibited across them. In 1924, Werefkin was inspired to establish another, The Great Bear, in her locale of Ascona, Switzerland. 

Their paintings share the quality of hybridity, between rural and urban environments, and constant reinvention. Never static, they were ‘continually reinventing their approach in response to their surroundings.’ Using similar media with different intentions – Kollwitz called self-portraiture a ‘visual form of soliloquy’– it’s a privilege to see a plurality of women’s experiences, as travellers, debaters, and workers.  

One theme – ‘The Century of the Child’ – explicitly focuses on the enduring expectation that mothers suspend their artistic careers for childbirth, with the baby standing as a complex symbol of joy, but also individual loss. (The idea is best articulated by Kollwitz later, in a work which shows a woman torn between the birth of her child’s life, and the death of her own.)

Death and Woman, Käthe Kollwitz (1910)

Biography matters in the history of Expressionism. And Making Modernism speaks to how these artists used their practice for personal liberation from the ideas and structures which confined feminism to the domestic sphere. These women – whose parents often saw their education as a contingency plan, in case of no marriage – grappled with sexism and misogyny in society, and amongst their men peers in the art movement.

Curating by theme and community rather than by artist allows for connections, and for different artists to come to the fore in different rooms. It’s a radical approach, which demands viewers reimagine outdated tropes. Still-lives are reclaimed, no longer a derogatory term, but an acknowledgement of the value of peace and confidence in the context of sociopolitical turmoil. It’s a stark contrast to the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype faced by their forebears like Van Gogh, and the typical great man narrative of the hero artist perpetuated in other shows. 

The cost is that their personal identities and journeys, scattered between works, are hard to follow and overwhelming to process. This sometimes-confusing path shouldn’t make them any less trailblazers. Biographies in the accompanying booklet help. The exhibition perhaps contains some blind spots; Hannah Höch, Dadaist and pioneer of photomontage and political collages, would be a welcome addition (not replacement) to the artists here. 

Not only did these artists not passively internalise traditions, but beat them back over the head with their own sticks. This manifests in a plurality of forms, from Kollwitz’s existential etchings to Modersohn-Becker’s life-size nudes, referencing fruits and flowers from the northern Renaissance Old Masters as Albrecht Dürer, in bold, simplified form. 

More subversive humour comes in the small, tightly-cropped paintings of everyday life. The personal is political, and we can’t help but feel Münter poking fun at sexist stereotypes with her photographic eye. Putting such a ‘minor’ work on the exhibition book might be a step too far – but isn’t that the point?

Still-life on the Tram (After Shopping), Gabriele Münter (c. 1912)

Whilst inspired by the metropolis, most of these women eventually opted for more rural locations and villages. It is here where Marianne Werefkin, ambivalent in the previous rooms, becomes the show’s ‘revelation’.

From her ‘elite’ (or rather, privileged) position, she paints the ‘recurring, rhythmic forms of the hunched figures’ around her, their ‘solidarity’ in the face of repetitive daily routines. Werefkin’s lurid neon landscapes and sarcastic titles suggest the colour to be found in these environments – and poke fun at those who fail to do so.

Life Behind Them, Marianne von Werefkin (1928)

Perhaps Picasso, Epstein, and Freud outweigh the contributions of these women to the movement, but their canonisation has inspired some less critical curation. Take Lucian Freud: New Perspectives, currently on show at the National Gallery. It euphemistically refers to his ‘controversial’ lifestyle, and leaves depictions of his daughters naked unlabelled, unnamed. 

By contrast, Making Modernism engages with the ethics of these artists using local children as models. Even the youngest women have agency. ‘Oh no, I ain’t doing none of that,’ says Elsbeth, Modersohn-Becker’s stepdaughter. The artist writes of this ‘spirited little person’ in her diary, and ‘hating the seducer in me’, in successfully bribing her to sit with a mark. This gendered language subtly speaks volumes of the sexual hierarchies in contemporary society. 

LEFT: Seated Nude Girl, Her Legs Pulled Up, Paula Modersohn-Becker (c. 1904) | RIGHT: Beta Naked, Ottilie Reylaender (c. 1900)

We are right to ask such questions, including why these individuals never receive solo exhibitions, when William Kentridge’s charcoals now span seventeen rooms across the main space. It’s a privilege reserved for Marina Abramović, who will be the first woman to exhibit alone across the RA’s entire main galleries next year.

‘What defines modern art is the participation of women, not just the style,’ says US art historian Diane Radycki. And Gabriele Münter – whose instantaneous works echo Alice Neel, fifty years before her time – certainly participated. When she first met Kandinsky, her tutor at art school, he was relatively unknown. But her canon is Rolodex of contacts, boasting her connections to Herwarth Walden, Der Sturm, and Paul Klee.

Man in an Armchair (Paul Klee), Gabriele Münter (1913)

She paints him, unnamed, in the house she purchased, a hybrid self-portrait and interior where her own presence is indicated by the empty chair. It’s a nod to Van Gogh, painted in her own ‘Yellow House’. (Post-impressionism affected Modersohn-Becker ‘like a thunderstorm’, her ‘Nude Girl with Flower Vases’ a clear homage to Paul Gauguin.) It’s also where they would hide and protect a significant amount of Nazi Degenerate Art, later donated to the Lenbachhaus Museum in Munich. 

Though engaged in contemporary struggles of their own, these artists thought in the longer term. Making Modernism merely enacts their efforts to entrench themselves in their networks and in art history, pushing back against the potential posthumous obscurity.

Kollwitz is notably absent from the final room. But her presence is felt: ‘By placing female subjectivity at the core of her practice, she, like Modersohn-Becker, Münter, and Werefkin, was instrumental in blazing a trail for Expressionist art, and in shaping the course of Modernism.’ It’s a stunning conclusion to an exhibition that one cannot leave unchanged.

When Radycki first saw Paula Modersohn-Becker’s art, photographed by her lecturer on a trip to Europe, she could ‘rely only on her eyes’ for its interpretation. By the time she was writing her dissertation in the 1980s, forty years after those photographs were taken, still nothing had been published on the artist in the English language. 

Making Modernism speaks directly to how women must fight to be included in art history. The parallels today are clear, for those who choose to see them.

Making Modernism: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin is on view at the Royal Academy until 12 February 2023. Free viewings for young people under 25 take place every Friday until 9pm. 

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
22/11/2022
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Exhibition Review: Making Modernism at the Royal Academy
Our take on the Royal Academy's new exhibition, spotlighting the unsung heroines of the art movement

Kinder, Küche, Kirche: three words which anchored the German women's social position to their body and biology. So when women artists started depicting domestic interiors as spaces to exchange ideas – and their own natures and portraits, not traditional landscapes or still lifes – they were radically reclaiming these sites as their own.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) is the most famous, and internationally represented, of the artists in Making Modernism, the first UK exhibition devoted to the women practising in Germany in the early 1900s, their contributions to 20th century Modernism hidden in history.

Drawing working class women from a staunchly socialist perspective, Kollwitz’s dark figurative works are a violent departure from the more bourgeois subjects of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Gabriele Münter, and Russian aristocrat Marianne von Werefkin. ‘Representing the joyous side simply did not appeal to me,’ she writes, though warmth is still carved into the deepest wounds of her charcoals and woodcuts.

Making Modernism takes a considered, intersectional approach to privilege, openly acknowledging how women’s admission remained restricted – to those with men artists in the family, access to private lessons, or Ladies’ Academies from the new Association of Women Artists. Others seized the opportunity to travel to cities, or rural artists’ colonies, where they often defied authority together. 

We learn by osmosis of their positionalities and prejudices in different environments, especially their fascination with androgynous and alternative subjects. Münter’s ‘Portrait of a Woman’ (1930), created from a memory of a Black woman on a train, is renamed to acknowledge racial differences in the movement.

But above all, we feel their thirst to drink it all in. These women share a less voyeuristic, and more absorptive, attitude towards their surroundings than their men contemporaries. We are with them as they copy classical portraits in museums, visit the Parisian studios of their favoured sculptors and post-Impressionists, and fuse them together in their own Expressionist, but timeless, aspects.

Self-portrait in Front of Window with View of Parisian Houses, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1900)

When Modersohn-Becker ascends, backed up by buildings, from the Campagne Première in Montparnasse, we see her painting herself in as part of the Parisian architecture – and by extension, its art history.  

Nose and chin aloft, she ‘breath[es] in the fresh air from the open window, aligns herself with the city’s modernity.’ The artist left her husband, who was frightened by the influence of French modernism, soon afterwards. 

Both Münter and Werefkin have long been swallowed into the histories of their partners, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky. But here, this isn’t the case; an experimental portrait of Clara Westhoff – a pioneering sculptor and artist – speaks first of her profession and creative relationship with Modersohn-Becker. Her married name, Rilke-Westhoff, and relationship with the Modernist writer Rainer Maria Rilke (through whom the two met Auguste Rodin) is addressed afterwards. It’s a subtle curatorial decision, but one that does as much heavy lifting as a double-barrelled name. 

Indeed, there’s a quiet power to all these captions, subverting the typical order of affairs in a women-first narrative. Take The German Woman at the Turn of the Century (1904) and Swedish feminist Ellen Key’s The Century of the Child (1900), both referenced before Sigmund Freud. This shouldn’t seem radical or progressive but, in the context of other UK arts exhibitions, it is.

Powerful wording mirrors the heroic and tragic stories of their subjects – including Modersohn-Becker, who died of a pregnancy-related pulmonary embolism shortly after returning to her husband. Simple themes, stark white and red walls, and quote-led captions all let the women’s works speak for themselves, as well as in conversation with each other. In ‘Intimacy’, Modersohn-Becker and Kollwitz are curated in conversation. 

Ottilie Reylaender (one of three other influencers, with Erma Bossi and Jacoba van Heemskercks) is placed opposite. A child herself, she practically follows Modersohn-Becker to Worpswede, coming across almost as a 20th century fangirl, ‘magnetically drawn’ to her corrupting influence against their teachers.

All of these women engaged with Expressionism; Münter and Werefkin were founder members of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists' Association Munich, NKVM) in 1909, which spawned the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an avant-garde Expressionist group, and the first modernist secession. Most were members of multiple groups, or exhibited across them. In 1924, Werefkin was inspired to establish another, The Great Bear, in her locale of Ascona, Switzerland. 

Their paintings share the quality of hybridity, between rural and urban environments, and constant reinvention. Never static, they were ‘continually reinventing their approach in response to their surroundings.’ Using similar media with different intentions – Kollwitz called self-portraiture a ‘visual form of soliloquy’– it’s a privilege to see a plurality of women’s experiences, as travellers, debaters, and workers.  

One theme – ‘The Century of the Child’ – explicitly focuses on the enduring expectation that mothers suspend their artistic careers for childbirth, with the baby standing as a complex symbol of joy, but also individual loss. (The idea is best articulated by Kollwitz later, in a work which shows a woman torn between the birth of her child’s life, and the death of her own.)

Death and Woman, Käthe Kollwitz (1910)

Biography matters in the history of Expressionism. And Making Modernism speaks to how these artists used their practice for personal liberation from the ideas and structures which confined feminism to the domestic sphere. These women – whose parents often saw their education as a contingency plan, in case of no marriage – grappled with sexism and misogyny in society, and amongst their men peers in the art movement.

Curating by theme and community rather than by artist allows for connections, and for different artists to come to the fore in different rooms. It’s a radical approach, which demands viewers reimagine outdated tropes. Still-lives are reclaimed, no longer a derogatory term, but an acknowledgement of the value of peace and confidence in the context of sociopolitical turmoil. It’s a stark contrast to the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype faced by their forebears like Van Gogh, and the typical great man narrative of the hero artist perpetuated in other shows. 

The cost is that their personal identities and journeys, scattered between works, are hard to follow and overwhelming to process. This sometimes-confusing path shouldn’t make them any less trailblazers. Biographies in the accompanying booklet help. The exhibition perhaps contains some blind spots; Hannah Höch, Dadaist and pioneer of photomontage and political collages, would be a welcome addition (not replacement) to the artists here. 

Not only did these artists not passively internalise traditions, but beat them back over the head with their own sticks. This manifests in a plurality of forms, from Kollwitz’s existential etchings to Modersohn-Becker’s life-size nudes, referencing fruits and flowers from the northern Renaissance Old Masters as Albrecht Dürer, in bold, simplified form. 

More subversive humour comes in the small, tightly-cropped paintings of everyday life. The personal is political, and we can’t help but feel Münter poking fun at sexist stereotypes with her photographic eye. Putting such a ‘minor’ work on the exhibition book might be a step too far – but isn’t that the point?

Still-life on the Tram (After Shopping), Gabriele Münter (c. 1912)

Whilst inspired by the metropolis, most of these women eventually opted for more rural locations and villages. It is here where Marianne Werefkin, ambivalent in the previous rooms, becomes the show’s ‘revelation’.

From her ‘elite’ (or rather, privileged) position, she paints the ‘recurring, rhythmic forms of the hunched figures’ around her, their ‘solidarity’ in the face of repetitive daily routines. Werefkin’s lurid neon landscapes and sarcastic titles suggest the colour to be found in these environments – and poke fun at those who fail to do so.

Life Behind Them, Marianne von Werefkin (1928)

Perhaps Picasso, Epstein, and Freud outweigh the contributions of these women to the movement, but their canonisation has inspired some less critical curation. Take Lucian Freud: New Perspectives, currently on show at the National Gallery. It euphemistically refers to his ‘controversial’ lifestyle, and leaves depictions of his daughters naked unlabelled, unnamed. 

By contrast, Making Modernism engages with the ethics of these artists using local children as models. Even the youngest women have agency. ‘Oh no, I ain’t doing none of that,’ says Elsbeth, Modersohn-Becker’s stepdaughter. The artist writes of this ‘spirited little person’ in her diary, and ‘hating the seducer in me’, in successfully bribing her to sit with a mark. This gendered language subtly speaks volumes of the sexual hierarchies in contemporary society. 

LEFT: Seated Nude Girl, Her Legs Pulled Up, Paula Modersohn-Becker (c. 1904) | RIGHT: Beta Naked, Ottilie Reylaender (c. 1900)

We are right to ask such questions, including why these individuals never receive solo exhibitions, when William Kentridge’s charcoals now span seventeen rooms across the main space. It’s a privilege reserved for Marina Abramović, who will be the first woman to exhibit alone across the RA’s entire main galleries next year.

‘What defines modern art is the participation of women, not just the style,’ says US art historian Diane Radycki. And Gabriele Münter – whose instantaneous works echo Alice Neel, fifty years before her time – certainly participated. When she first met Kandinsky, her tutor at art school, he was relatively unknown. But her canon is Rolodex of contacts, boasting her connections to Herwarth Walden, Der Sturm, and Paul Klee.

Man in an Armchair (Paul Klee), Gabriele Münter (1913)

She paints him, unnamed, in the house she purchased, a hybrid self-portrait and interior where her own presence is indicated by the empty chair. It’s a nod to Van Gogh, painted in her own ‘Yellow House’. (Post-impressionism affected Modersohn-Becker ‘like a thunderstorm’, her ‘Nude Girl with Flower Vases’ a clear homage to Paul Gauguin.) It’s also where they would hide and protect a significant amount of Nazi Degenerate Art, later donated to the Lenbachhaus Museum in Munich. 

Though engaged in contemporary struggles of their own, these artists thought in the longer term. Making Modernism merely enacts their efforts to entrench themselves in their networks and in art history, pushing back against the potential posthumous obscurity.

Kollwitz is notably absent from the final room. But her presence is felt: ‘By placing female subjectivity at the core of her practice, she, like Modersohn-Becker, Münter, and Werefkin, was instrumental in blazing a trail for Expressionist art, and in shaping the course of Modernism.’ It’s a stunning conclusion to an exhibition that one cannot leave unchanged.

When Radycki first saw Paula Modersohn-Becker’s art, photographed by her lecturer on a trip to Europe, she could ‘rely only on her eyes’ for its interpretation. By the time she was writing her dissertation in the 1980s, forty years after those photographs were taken, still nothing had been published on the artist in the English language. 

Making Modernism speaks directly to how women must fight to be included in art history. The parallels today are clear, for those who choose to see them.

Making Modernism: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin is on view at the Royal Academy until 12 February 2023. Free viewings for young people under 25 take place every Friday until 9pm. 

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
22/11/2022
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Exhibition Review: Making Modernism at the Royal Academy
Our take on the Royal Academy's new exhibition, spotlighting the unsung heroines of the art movement

Kinder, Küche, Kirche: three words which anchored the German women's social position to their body and biology. So when women artists started depicting domestic interiors as spaces to exchange ideas – and their own natures and portraits, not traditional landscapes or still lifes – they were radically reclaiming these sites as their own.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) is the most famous, and internationally represented, of the artists in Making Modernism, the first UK exhibition devoted to the women practising in Germany in the early 1900s, their contributions to 20th century Modernism hidden in history.

Drawing working class women from a staunchly socialist perspective, Kollwitz’s dark figurative works are a violent departure from the more bourgeois subjects of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Gabriele Münter, and Russian aristocrat Marianne von Werefkin. ‘Representing the joyous side simply did not appeal to me,’ she writes, though warmth is still carved into the deepest wounds of her charcoals and woodcuts.

Making Modernism takes a considered, intersectional approach to privilege, openly acknowledging how women’s admission remained restricted – to those with men artists in the family, access to private lessons, or Ladies’ Academies from the new Association of Women Artists. Others seized the opportunity to travel to cities, or rural artists’ colonies, where they often defied authority together. 

We learn by osmosis of their positionalities and prejudices in different environments, especially their fascination with androgynous and alternative subjects. Münter’s ‘Portrait of a Woman’ (1930), created from a memory of a Black woman on a train, is renamed to acknowledge racial differences in the movement.

But above all, we feel their thirst to drink it all in. These women share a less voyeuristic, and more absorptive, attitude towards their surroundings than their men contemporaries. We are with them as they copy classical portraits in museums, visit the Parisian studios of their favoured sculptors and post-Impressionists, and fuse them together in their own Expressionist, but timeless, aspects.

Self-portrait in Front of Window with View of Parisian Houses, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1900)

When Modersohn-Becker ascends, backed up by buildings, from the Campagne Première in Montparnasse, we see her painting herself in as part of the Parisian architecture – and by extension, its art history.  

Nose and chin aloft, she ‘breath[es] in the fresh air from the open window, aligns herself with the city’s modernity.’ The artist left her husband, who was frightened by the influence of French modernism, soon afterwards. 

Both Münter and Werefkin have long been swallowed into the histories of their partners, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky. But here, this isn’t the case; an experimental portrait of Clara Westhoff – a pioneering sculptor and artist – speaks first of her profession and creative relationship with Modersohn-Becker. Her married name, Rilke-Westhoff, and relationship with the Modernist writer Rainer Maria Rilke (through whom the two met Auguste Rodin) is addressed afterwards. It’s a subtle curatorial decision, but one that does as much heavy lifting as a double-barrelled name. 

Indeed, there’s a quiet power to all these captions, subverting the typical order of affairs in a women-first narrative. Take The German Woman at the Turn of the Century (1904) and Swedish feminist Ellen Key’s The Century of the Child (1900), both referenced before Sigmund Freud. This shouldn’t seem radical or progressive but, in the context of other UK arts exhibitions, it is.

Powerful wording mirrors the heroic and tragic stories of their subjects – including Modersohn-Becker, who died of a pregnancy-related pulmonary embolism shortly after returning to her husband. Simple themes, stark white and red walls, and quote-led captions all let the women’s works speak for themselves, as well as in conversation with each other. In ‘Intimacy’, Modersohn-Becker and Kollwitz are curated in conversation. 

Ottilie Reylaender (one of three other influencers, with Erma Bossi and Jacoba van Heemskercks) is placed opposite. A child herself, she practically follows Modersohn-Becker to Worpswede, coming across almost as a 20th century fangirl, ‘magnetically drawn’ to her corrupting influence against their teachers.

All of these women engaged with Expressionism; Münter and Werefkin were founder members of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists' Association Munich, NKVM) in 1909, which spawned the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an avant-garde Expressionist group, and the first modernist secession. Most were members of multiple groups, or exhibited across them. In 1924, Werefkin was inspired to establish another, The Great Bear, in her locale of Ascona, Switzerland. 

Their paintings share the quality of hybridity, between rural and urban environments, and constant reinvention. Never static, they were ‘continually reinventing their approach in response to their surroundings.’ Using similar media with different intentions – Kollwitz called self-portraiture a ‘visual form of soliloquy’– it’s a privilege to see a plurality of women’s experiences, as travellers, debaters, and workers.  

One theme – ‘The Century of the Child’ – explicitly focuses on the enduring expectation that mothers suspend their artistic careers for childbirth, with the baby standing as a complex symbol of joy, but also individual loss. (The idea is best articulated by Kollwitz later, in a work which shows a woman torn between the birth of her child’s life, and the death of her own.)

Death and Woman, Käthe Kollwitz (1910)

Biography matters in the history of Expressionism. And Making Modernism speaks to how these artists used their practice for personal liberation from the ideas and structures which confined feminism to the domestic sphere. These women – whose parents often saw their education as a contingency plan, in case of no marriage – grappled with sexism and misogyny in society, and amongst their men peers in the art movement.

Curating by theme and community rather than by artist allows for connections, and for different artists to come to the fore in different rooms. It’s a radical approach, which demands viewers reimagine outdated tropes. Still-lives are reclaimed, no longer a derogatory term, but an acknowledgement of the value of peace and confidence in the context of sociopolitical turmoil. It’s a stark contrast to the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype faced by their forebears like Van Gogh, and the typical great man narrative of the hero artist perpetuated in other shows. 

The cost is that their personal identities and journeys, scattered between works, are hard to follow and overwhelming to process. This sometimes-confusing path shouldn’t make them any less trailblazers. Biographies in the accompanying booklet help. The exhibition perhaps contains some blind spots; Hannah Höch, Dadaist and pioneer of photomontage and political collages, would be a welcome addition (not replacement) to the artists here. 

Not only did these artists not passively internalise traditions, but beat them back over the head with their own sticks. This manifests in a plurality of forms, from Kollwitz’s existential etchings to Modersohn-Becker’s life-size nudes, referencing fruits and flowers from the northern Renaissance Old Masters as Albrecht Dürer, in bold, simplified form. 

More subversive humour comes in the small, tightly-cropped paintings of everyday life. The personal is political, and we can’t help but feel Münter poking fun at sexist stereotypes with her photographic eye. Putting such a ‘minor’ work on the exhibition book might be a step too far – but isn’t that the point?

Still-life on the Tram (After Shopping), Gabriele Münter (c. 1912)

Whilst inspired by the metropolis, most of these women eventually opted for more rural locations and villages. It is here where Marianne Werefkin, ambivalent in the previous rooms, becomes the show’s ‘revelation’.

From her ‘elite’ (or rather, privileged) position, she paints the ‘recurring, rhythmic forms of the hunched figures’ around her, their ‘solidarity’ in the face of repetitive daily routines. Werefkin’s lurid neon landscapes and sarcastic titles suggest the colour to be found in these environments – and poke fun at those who fail to do so.

Life Behind Them, Marianne von Werefkin (1928)

Perhaps Picasso, Epstein, and Freud outweigh the contributions of these women to the movement, but their canonisation has inspired some less critical curation. Take Lucian Freud: New Perspectives, currently on show at the National Gallery. It euphemistically refers to his ‘controversial’ lifestyle, and leaves depictions of his daughters naked unlabelled, unnamed. 

By contrast, Making Modernism engages with the ethics of these artists using local children as models. Even the youngest women have agency. ‘Oh no, I ain’t doing none of that,’ says Elsbeth, Modersohn-Becker’s stepdaughter. The artist writes of this ‘spirited little person’ in her diary, and ‘hating the seducer in me’, in successfully bribing her to sit with a mark. This gendered language subtly speaks volumes of the sexual hierarchies in contemporary society. 

LEFT: Seated Nude Girl, Her Legs Pulled Up, Paula Modersohn-Becker (c. 1904) | RIGHT: Beta Naked, Ottilie Reylaender (c. 1900)

We are right to ask such questions, including why these individuals never receive solo exhibitions, when William Kentridge’s charcoals now span seventeen rooms across the main space. It’s a privilege reserved for Marina Abramović, who will be the first woman to exhibit alone across the RA’s entire main galleries next year.

‘What defines modern art is the participation of women, not just the style,’ says US art historian Diane Radycki. And Gabriele Münter – whose instantaneous works echo Alice Neel, fifty years before her time – certainly participated. When she first met Kandinsky, her tutor at art school, he was relatively unknown. But her canon is Rolodex of contacts, boasting her connections to Herwarth Walden, Der Sturm, and Paul Klee.

Man in an Armchair (Paul Klee), Gabriele Münter (1913)

She paints him, unnamed, in the house she purchased, a hybrid self-portrait and interior where her own presence is indicated by the empty chair. It’s a nod to Van Gogh, painted in her own ‘Yellow House’. (Post-impressionism affected Modersohn-Becker ‘like a thunderstorm’, her ‘Nude Girl with Flower Vases’ a clear homage to Paul Gauguin.) It’s also where they would hide and protect a significant amount of Nazi Degenerate Art, later donated to the Lenbachhaus Museum in Munich. 

Though engaged in contemporary struggles of their own, these artists thought in the longer term. Making Modernism merely enacts their efforts to entrench themselves in their networks and in art history, pushing back against the potential posthumous obscurity.

Kollwitz is notably absent from the final room. But her presence is felt: ‘By placing female subjectivity at the core of her practice, she, like Modersohn-Becker, Münter, and Werefkin, was instrumental in blazing a trail for Expressionist art, and in shaping the course of Modernism.’ It’s a stunning conclusion to an exhibition that one cannot leave unchanged.

When Radycki first saw Paula Modersohn-Becker’s art, photographed by her lecturer on a trip to Europe, she could ‘rely only on her eyes’ for its interpretation. By the time she was writing her dissertation in the 1980s, forty years after those photographs were taken, still nothing had been published on the artist in the English language. 

Making Modernism speaks directly to how women must fight to be included in art history. The parallels today are clear, for those who choose to see them.

Making Modernism: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin is on view at the Royal Academy until 12 February 2023. Free viewings for young people under 25 take place every Friday until 9pm. 

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
22/11/2022
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Exhibition Review: Making Modernism at the Royal Academy

Kinder, Küche, Kirche: three words which anchored the German women's social position to their body and biology. So when women artists started depicting domestic interiors as spaces to exchange ideas – and their own natures and portraits, not traditional landscapes or still lifes – they were radically reclaiming these sites as their own.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) is the most famous, and internationally represented, of the artists in Making Modernism, the first UK exhibition devoted to the women practising in Germany in the early 1900s, their contributions to 20th century Modernism hidden in history.

Drawing working class women from a staunchly socialist perspective, Kollwitz’s dark figurative works are a violent departure from the more bourgeois subjects of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Gabriele Münter, and Russian aristocrat Marianne von Werefkin. ‘Representing the joyous side simply did not appeal to me,’ she writes, though warmth is still carved into the deepest wounds of her charcoals and woodcuts.

Making Modernism takes a considered, intersectional approach to privilege, openly acknowledging how women’s admission remained restricted – to those with men artists in the family, access to private lessons, or Ladies’ Academies from the new Association of Women Artists. Others seized the opportunity to travel to cities, or rural artists’ colonies, where they often defied authority together. 

We learn by osmosis of their positionalities and prejudices in different environments, especially their fascination with androgynous and alternative subjects. Münter’s ‘Portrait of a Woman’ (1930), created from a memory of a Black woman on a train, is renamed to acknowledge racial differences in the movement.

But above all, we feel their thirst to drink it all in. These women share a less voyeuristic, and more absorptive, attitude towards their surroundings than their men contemporaries. We are with them as they copy classical portraits in museums, visit the Parisian studios of their favoured sculptors and post-Impressionists, and fuse them together in their own Expressionist, but timeless, aspects.

Self-portrait in Front of Window with View of Parisian Houses, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1900)

When Modersohn-Becker ascends, backed up by buildings, from the Campagne Première in Montparnasse, we see her painting herself in as part of the Parisian architecture – and by extension, its art history.  

Nose and chin aloft, she ‘breath[es] in the fresh air from the open window, aligns herself with the city’s modernity.’ The artist left her husband, who was frightened by the influence of French modernism, soon afterwards. 

Both Münter and Werefkin have long been swallowed into the histories of their partners, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky. But here, this isn’t the case; an experimental portrait of Clara Westhoff – a pioneering sculptor and artist – speaks first of her profession and creative relationship with Modersohn-Becker. Her married name, Rilke-Westhoff, and relationship with the Modernist writer Rainer Maria Rilke (through whom the two met Auguste Rodin) is addressed afterwards. It’s a subtle curatorial decision, but one that does as much heavy lifting as a double-barrelled name. 

Indeed, there’s a quiet power to all these captions, subverting the typical order of affairs in a women-first narrative. Take The German Woman at the Turn of the Century (1904) and Swedish feminist Ellen Key’s The Century of the Child (1900), both referenced before Sigmund Freud. This shouldn’t seem radical or progressive but, in the context of other UK arts exhibitions, it is.

Powerful wording mirrors the heroic and tragic stories of their subjects – including Modersohn-Becker, who died of a pregnancy-related pulmonary embolism shortly after returning to her husband. Simple themes, stark white and red walls, and quote-led captions all let the women’s works speak for themselves, as well as in conversation with each other. In ‘Intimacy’, Modersohn-Becker and Kollwitz are curated in conversation. 

Ottilie Reylaender (one of three other influencers, with Erma Bossi and Jacoba van Heemskercks) is placed opposite. A child herself, she practically follows Modersohn-Becker to Worpswede, coming across almost as a 20th century fangirl, ‘magnetically drawn’ to her corrupting influence against their teachers.

All of these women engaged with Expressionism; Münter and Werefkin were founder members of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists' Association Munich, NKVM) in 1909, which spawned the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an avant-garde Expressionist group, and the first modernist secession. Most were members of multiple groups, or exhibited across them. In 1924, Werefkin was inspired to establish another, The Great Bear, in her locale of Ascona, Switzerland. 

Their paintings share the quality of hybridity, between rural and urban environments, and constant reinvention. Never static, they were ‘continually reinventing their approach in response to their surroundings.’ Using similar media with different intentions – Kollwitz called self-portraiture a ‘visual form of soliloquy’– it’s a privilege to see a plurality of women’s experiences, as travellers, debaters, and workers.  

One theme – ‘The Century of the Child’ – explicitly focuses on the enduring expectation that mothers suspend their artistic careers for childbirth, with the baby standing as a complex symbol of joy, but also individual loss. (The idea is best articulated by Kollwitz later, in a work which shows a woman torn between the birth of her child’s life, and the death of her own.)

Death and Woman, Käthe Kollwitz (1910)

Biography matters in the history of Expressionism. And Making Modernism speaks to how these artists used their practice for personal liberation from the ideas and structures which confined feminism to the domestic sphere. These women – whose parents often saw their education as a contingency plan, in case of no marriage – grappled with sexism and misogyny in society, and amongst their men peers in the art movement.

Curating by theme and community rather than by artist allows for connections, and for different artists to come to the fore in different rooms. It’s a radical approach, which demands viewers reimagine outdated tropes. Still-lives are reclaimed, no longer a derogatory term, but an acknowledgement of the value of peace and confidence in the context of sociopolitical turmoil. It’s a stark contrast to the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype faced by their forebears like Van Gogh, and the typical great man narrative of the hero artist perpetuated in other shows. 

The cost is that their personal identities and journeys, scattered between works, are hard to follow and overwhelming to process. This sometimes-confusing path shouldn’t make them any less trailblazers. Biographies in the accompanying booklet help. The exhibition perhaps contains some blind spots; Hannah Höch, Dadaist and pioneer of photomontage and political collages, would be a welcome addition (not replacement) to the artists here. 

Not only did these artists not passively internalise traditions, but beat them back over the head with their own sticks. This manifests in a plurality of forms, from Kollwitz’s existential etchings to Modersohn-Becker’s life-size nudes, referencing fruits and flowers from the northern Renaissance Old Masters as Albrecht Dürer, in bold, simplified form. 

More subversive humour comes in the small, tightly-cropped paintings of everyday life. The personal is political, and we can’t help but feel Münter poking fun at sexist stereotypes with her photographic eye. Putting such a ‘minor’ work on the exhibition book might be a step too far – but isn’t that the point?

Still-life on the Tram (After Shopping), Gabriele Münter (c. 1912)

Whilst inspired by the metropolis, most of these women eventually opted for more rural locations and villages. It is here where Marianne Werefkin, ambivalent in the previous rooms, becomes the show’s ‘revelation’.

From her ‘elite’ (or rather, privileged) position, she paints the ‘recurring, rhythmic forms of the hunched figures’ around her, their ‘solidarity’ in the face of repetitive daily routines. Werefkin’s lurid neon landscapes and sarcastic titles suggest the colour to be found in these environments – and poke fun at those who fail to do so.

Life Behind Them, Marianne von Werefkin (1928)

Perhaps Picasso, Epstein, and Freud outweigh the contributions of these women to the movement, but their canonisation has inspired some less critical curation. Take Lucian Freud: New Perspectives, currently on show at the National Gallery. It euphemistically refers to his ‘controversial’ lifestyle, and leaves depictions of his daughters naked unlabelled, unnamed. 

By contrast, Making Modernism engages with the ethics of these artists using local children as models. Even the youngest women have agency. ‘Oh no, I ain’t doing none of that,’ says Elsbeth, Modersohn-Becker’s stepdaughter. The artist writes of this ‘spirited little person’ in her diary, and ‘hating the seducer in me’, in successfully bribing her to sit with a mark. This gendered language subtly speaks volumes of the sexual hierarchies in contemporary society. 

LEFT: Seated Nude Girl, Her Legs Pulled Up, Paula Modersohn-Becker (c. 1904) | RIGHT: Beta Naked, Ottilie Reylaender (c. 1900)

We are right to ask such questions, including why these individuals never receive solo exhibitions, when William Kentridge’s charcoals now span seventeen rooms across the main space. It’s a privilege reserved for Marina Abramović, who will be the first woman to exhibit alone across the RA’s entire main galleries next year.

‘What defines modern art is the participation of women, not just the style,’ says US art historian Diane Radycki. And Gabriele Münter – whose instantaneous works echo Alice Neel, fifty years before her time – certainly participated. When she first met Kandinsky, her tutor at art school, he was relatively unknown. But her canon is Rolodex of contacts, boasting her connections to Herwarth Walden, Der Sturm, and Paul Klee.

Man in an Armchair (Paul Klee), Gabriele Münter (1913)

She paints him, unnamed, in the house she purchased, a hybrid self-portrait and interior where her own presence is indicated by the empty chair. It’s a nod to Van Gogh, painted in her own ‘Yellow House’. (Post-impressionism affected Modersohn-Becker ‘like a thunderstorm’, her ‘Nude Girl with Flower Vases’ a clear homage to Paul Gauguin.) It’s also where they would hide and protect a significant amount of Nazi Degenerate Art, later donated to the Lenbachhaus Museum in Munich. 

Though engaged in contemporary struggles of their own, these artists thought in the longer term. Making Modernism merely enacts their efforts to entrench themselves in their networks and in art history, pushing back against the potential posthumous obscurity.

Kollwitz is notably absent from the final room. But her presence is felt: ‘By placing female subjectivity at the core of her practice, she, like Modersohn-Becker, Münter, and Werefkin, was instrumental in blazing a trail for Expressionist art, and in shaping the course of Modernism.’ It’s a stunning conclusion to an exhibition that one cannot leave unchanged.

When Radycki first saw Paula Modersohn-Becker’s art, photographed by her lecturer on a trip to Europe, she could ‘rely only on her eyes’ for its interpretation. By the time she was writing her dissertation in the 1980s, forty years after those photographs were taken, still nothing had been published on the artist in the English language. 

Making Modernism speaks directly to how women must fight to be included in art history. The parallels today are clear, for those who choose to see them.

Making Modernism: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin is on view at the Royal Academy until 12 February 2023. Free viewings for young people under 25 take place every Friday until 9pm. 

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
22/11/2022
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Exhibition Review: Making Modernism at the Royal Academy
Our take on the Royal Academy's new exhibition, spotlighting the unsung heroines of the art movement

Kinder, Küche, Kirche: three words which anchored the German women's social position to their body and biology. So when women artists started depicting domestic interiors as spaces to exchange ideas – and their own natures and portraits, not traditional landscapes or still lifes – they were radically reclaiming these sites as their own.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) is the most famous, and internationally represented, of the artists in Making Modernism, the first UK exhibition devoted to the women practising in Germany in the early 1900s, their contributions to 20th century Modernism hidden in history.

Drawing working class women from a staunchly socialist perspective, Kollwitz’s dark figurative works are a violent departure from the more bourgeois subjects of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Gabriele Münter, and Russian aristocrat Marianne von Werefkin. ‘Representing the joyous side simply did not appeal to me,’ she writes, though warmth is still carved into the deepest wounds of her charcoals and woodcuts.

Making Modernism takes a considered, intersectional approach to privilege, openly acknowledging how women’s admission remained restricted – to those with men artists in the family, access to private lessons, or Ladies’ Academies from the new Association of Women Artists. Others seized the opportunity to travel to cities, or rural artists’ colonies, where they often defied authority together. 

We learn by osmosis of their positionalities and prejudices in different environments, especially their fascination with androgynous and alternative subjects. Münter’s ‘Portrait of a Woman’ (1930), created from a memory of a Black woman on a train, is renamed to acknowledge racial differences in the movement.

But above all, we feel their thirst to drink it all in. These women share a less voyeuristic, and more absorptive, attitude towards their surroundings than their men contemporaries. We are with them as they copy classical portraits in museums, visit the Parisian studios of their favoured sculptors and post-Impressionists, and fuse them together in their own Expressionist, but timeless, aspects.

Self-portrait in Front of Window with View of Parisian Houses, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1900)

When Modersohn-Becker ascends, backed up by buildings, from the Campagne Première in Montparnasse, we see her painting herself in as part of the Parisian architecture – and by extension, its art history.  

Nose and chin aloft, she ‘breath[es] in the fresh air from the open window, aligns herself with the city’s modernity.’ The artist left her husband, who was frightened by the influence of French modernism, soon afterwards. 

Both Münter and Werefkin have long been swallowed into the histories of their partners, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky. But here, this isn’t the case; an experimental portrait of Clara Westhoff – a pioneering sculptor and artist – speaks first of her profession and creative relationship with Modersohn-Becker. Her married name, Rilke-Westhoff, and relationship with the Modernist writer Rainer Maria Rilke (through whom the two met Auguste Rodin) is addressed afterwards. It’s a subtle curatorial decision, but one that does as much heavy lifting as a double-barrelled name. 

Indeed, there’s a quiet power to all these captions, subverting the typical order of affairs in a women-first narrative. Take The German Woman at the Turn of the Century (1904) and Swedish feminist Ellen Key’s The Century of the Child (1900), both referenced before Sigmund Freud. This shouldn’t seem radical or progressive but, in the context of other UK arts exhibitions, it is.

Powerful wording mirrors the heroic and tragic stories of their subjects – including Modersohn-Becker, who died of a pregnancy-related pulmonary embolism shortly after returning to her husband. Simple themes, stark white and red walls, and quote-led captions all let the women’s works speak for themselves, as well as in conversation with each other. In ‘Intimacy’, Modersohn-Becker and Kollwitz are curated in conversation. 

Ottilie Reylaender (one of three other influencers, with Erma Bossi and Jacoba van Heemskercks) is placed opposite. A child herself, she practically follows Modersohn-Becker to Worpswede, coming across almost as a 20th century fangirl, ‘magnetically drawn’ to her corrupting influence against their teachers.

All of these women engaged with Expressionism; Münter and Werefkin were founder members of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists' Association Munich, NKVM) in 1909, which spawned the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an avant-garde Expressionist group, and the first modernist secession. Most were members of multiple groups, or exhibited across them. In 1924, Werefkin was inspired to establish another, The Great Bear, in her locale of Ascona, Switzerland. 

Their paintings share the quality of hybridity, between rural and urban environments, and constant reinvention. Never static, they were ‘continually reinventing their approach in response to their surroundings.’ Using similar media with different intentions – Kollwitz called self-portraiture a ‘visual form of soliloquy’– it’s a privilege to see a plurality of women’s experiences, as travellers, debaters, and workers.  

One theme – ‘The Century of the Child’ – explicitly focuses on the enduring expectation that mothers suspend their artistic careers for childbirth, with the baby standing as a complex symbol of joy, but also individual loss. (The idea is best articulated by Kollwitz later, in a work which shows a woman torn between the birth of her child’s life, and the death of her own.)

Death and Woman, Käthe Kollwitz (1910)

Biography matters in the history of Expressionism. And Making Modernism speaks to how these artists used their practice for personal liberation from the ideas and structures which confined feminism to the domestic sphere. These women – whose parents often saw their education as a contingency plan, in case of no marriage – grappled with sexism and misogyny in society, and amongst their men peers in the art movement.

Curating by theme and community rather than by artist allows for connections, and for different artists to come to the fore in different rooms. It’s a radical approach, which demands viewers reimagine outdated tropes. Still-lives are reclaimed, no longer a derogatory term, but an acknowledgement of the value of peace and confidence in the context of sociopolitical turmoil. It’s a stark contrast to the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype faced by their forebears like Van Gogh, and the typical great man narrative of the hero artist perpetuated in other shows. 

The cost is that their personal identities and journeys, scattered between works, are hard to follow and overwhelming to process. This sometimes-confusing path shouldn’t make them any less trailblazers. Biographies in the accompanying booklet help. The exhibition perhaps contains some blind spots; Hannah Höch, Dadaist and pioneer of photomontage and political collages, would be a welcome addition (not replacement) to the artists here. 

Not only did these artists not passively internalise traditions, but beat them back over the head with their own sticks. This manifests in a plurality of forms, from Kollwitz’s existential etchings to Modersohn-Becker’s life-size nudes, referencing fruits and flowers from the northern Renaissance Old Masters as Albrecht Dürer, in bold, simplified form. 

More subversive humour comes in the small, tightly-cropped paintings of everyday life. The personal is political, and we can’t help but feel Münter poking fun at sexist stereotypes with her photographic eye. Putting such a ‘minor’ work on the exhibition book might be a step too far – but isn’t that the point?

Still-life on the Tram (After Shopping), Gabriele Münter (c. 1912)

Whilst inspired by the metropolis, most of these women eventually opted for more rural locations and villages. It is here where Marianne Werefkin, ambivalent in the previous rooms, becomes the show’s ‘revelation’.

From her ‘elite’ (or rather, privileged) position, she paints the ‘recurring, rhythmic forms of the hunched figures’ around her, their ‘solidarity’ in the face of repetitive daily routines. Werefkin’s lurid neon landscapes and sarcastic titles suggest the colour to be found in these environments – and poke fun at those who fail to do so.

Life Behind Them, Marianne von Werefkin (1928)

Perhaps Picasso, Epstein, and Freud outweigh the contributions of these women to the movement, but their canonisation has inspired some less critical curation. Take Lucian Freud: New Perspectives, currently on show at the National Gallery. It euphemistically refers to his ‘controversial’ lifestyle, and leaves depictions of his daughters naked unlabelled, unnamed. 

By contrast, Making Modernism engages with the ethics of these artists using local children as models. Even the youngest women have agency. ‘Oh no, I ain’t doing none of that,’ says Elsbeth, Modersohn-Becker’s stepdaughter. The artist writes of this ‘spirited little person’ in her diary, and ‘hating the seducer in me’, in successfully bribing her to sit with a mark. This gendered language subtly speaks volumes of the sexual hierarchies in contemporary society. 

LEFT: Seated Nude Girl, Her Legs Pulled Up, Paula Modersohn-Becker (c. 1904) | RIGHT: Beta Naked, Ottilie Reylaender (c. 1900)

We are right to ask such questions, including why these individuals never receive solo exhibitions, when William Kentridge’s charcoals now span seventeen rooms across the main space. It’s a privilege reserved for Marina Abramović, who will be the first woman to exhibit alone across the RA’s entire main galleries next year.

‘What defines modern art is the participation of women, not just the style,’ says US art historian Diane Radycki. And Gabriele Münter – whose instantaneous works echo Alice Neel, fifty years before her time – certainly participated. When she first met Kandinsky, her tutor at art school, he was relatively unknown. But her canon is Rolodex of contacts, boasting her connections to Herwarth Walden, Der Sturm, and Paul Klee.

Man in an Armchair (Paul Klee), Gabriele Münter (1913)

She paints him, unnamed, in the house she purchased, a hybrid self-portrait and interior where her own presence is indicated by the empty chair. It’s a nod to Van Gogh, painted in her own ‘Yellow House’. (Post-impressionism affected Modersohn-Becker ‘like a thunderstorm’, her ‘Nude Girl with Flower Vases’ a clear homage to Paul Gauguin.) It’s also where they would hide and protect a significant amount of Nazi Degenerate Art, later donated to the Lenbachhaus Museum in Munich. 

Though engaged in contemporary struggles of their own, these artists thought in the longer term. Making Modernism merely enacts their efforts to entrench themselves in their networks and in art history, pushing back against the potential posthumous obscurity.

Kollwitz is notably absent from the final room. But her presence is felt: ‘By placing female subjectivity at the core of her practice, she, like Modersohn-Becker, Münter, and Werefkin, was instrumental in blazing a trail for Expressionist art, and in shaping the course of Modernism.’ It’s a stunning conclusion to an exhibition that one cannot leave unchanged.

When Radycki first saw Paula Modersohn-Becker’s art, photographed by her lecturer on a trip to Europe, she could ‘rely only on her eyes’ for its interpretation. By the time she was writing her dissertation in the 1980s, forty years after those photographs were taken, still nothing had been published on the artist in the English language. 

Making Modernism speaks directly to how women must fight to be included in art history. The parallels today are clear, for those who choose to see them.

Making Modernism: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin is on view at the Royal Academy until 12 February 2023. Free viewings for young people under 25 take place every Friday until 9pm. 

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
22/11/2022
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Exhibition Review: Making Modernism at the Royal Academy
Our take on the Royal Academy's new exhibition, spotlighting the unsung heroines of the art movement

Kinder, Küche, Kirche: three words which anchored the German women's social position to their body and biology. So when women artists started depicting domestic interiors as spaces to exchange ideas – and their own natures and portraits, not traditional landscapes or still lifes – they were radically reclaiming these sites as their own.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) is the most famous, and internationally represented, of the artists in Making Modernism, the first UK exhibition devoted to the women practising in Germany in the early 1900s, their contributions to 20th century Modernism hidden in history.

Drawing working class women from a staunchly socialist perspective, Kollwitz’s dark figurative works are a violent departure from the more bourgeois subjects of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Gabriele Münter, and Russian aristocrat Marianne von Werefkin. ‘Representing the joyous side simply did not appeal to me,’ she writes, though warmth is still carved into the deepest wounds of her charcoals and woodcuts.

Making Modernism takes a considered, intersectional approach to privilege, openly acknowledging how women’s admission remained restricted – to those with men artists in the family, access to private lessons, or Ladies’ Academies from the new Association of Women Artists. Others seized the opportunity to travel to cities, or rural artists’ colonies, where they often defied authority together. 

We learn by osmosis of their positionalities and prejudices in different environments, especially their fascination with androgynous and alternative subjects. Münter’s ‘Portrait of a Woman’ (1930), created from a memory of a Black woman on a train, is renamed to acknowledge racial differences in the movement.

But above all, we feel their thirst to drink it all in. These women share a less voyeuristic, and more absorptive, attitude towards their surroundings than their men contemporaries. We are with them as they copy classical portraits in museums, visit the Parisian studios of their favoured sculptors and post-Impressionists, and fuse them together in their own Expressionist, but timeless, aspects.

Self-portrait in Front of Window with View of Parisian Houses, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1900)

When Modersohn-Becker ascends, backed up by buildings, from the Campagne Première in Montparnasse, we see her painting herself in as part of the Parisian architecture – and by extension, its art history.  

Nose and chin aloft, she ‘breath[es] in the fresh air from the open window, aligns herself with the city’s modernity.’ The artist left her husband, who was frightened by the influence of French modernism, soon afterwards. 

Both Münter and Werefkin have long been swallowed into the histories of their partners, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky. But here, this isn’t the case; an experimental portrait of Clara Westhoff – a pioneering sculptor and artist – speaks first of her profession and creative relationship with Modersohn-Becker. Her married name, Rilke-Westhoff, and relationship with the Modernist writer Rainer Maria Rilke (through whom the two met Auguste Rodin) is addressed afterwards. It’s a subtle curatorial decision, but one that does as much heavy lifting as a double-barrelled name. 

Indeed, there’s a quiet power to all these captions, subverting the typical order of affairs in a women-first narrative. Take The German Woman at the Turn of the Century (1904) and Swedish feminist Ellen Key’s The Century of the Child (1900), both referenced before Sigmund Freud. This shouldn’t seem radical or progressive but, in the context of other UK arts exhibitions, it is.

Powerful wording mirrors the heroic and tragic stories of their subjects – including Modersohn-Becker, who died of a pregnancy-related pulmonary embolism shortly after returning to her husband. Simple themes, stark white and red walls, and quote-led captions all let the women’s works speak for themselves, as well as in conversation with each other. In ‘Intimacy’, Modersohn-Becker and Kollwitz are curated in conversation. 

Ottilie Reylaender (one of three other influencers, with Erma Bossi and Jacoba van Heemskercks) is placed opposite. A child herself, she practically follows Modersohn-Becker to Worpswede, coming across almost as a 20th century fangirl, ‘magnetically drawn’ to her corrupting influence against their teachers.

All of these women engaged with Expressionism; Münter and Werefkin were founder members of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists' Association Munich, NKVM) in 1909, which spawned the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an avant-garde Expressionist group, and the first modernist secession. Most were members of multiple groups, or exhibited across them. In 1924, Werefkin was inspired to establish another, The Great Bear, in her locale of Ascona, Switzerland. 

Their paintings share the quality of hybridity, between rural and urban environments, and constant reinvention. Never static, they were ‘continually reinventing their approach in response to their surroundings.’ Using similar media with different intentions – Kollwitz called self-portraiture a ‘visual form of soliloquy’– it’s a privilege to see a plurality of women’s experiences, as travellers, debaters, and workers.  

One theme – ‘The Century of the Child’ – explicitly focuses on the enduring expectation that mothers suspend their artistic careers for childbirth, with the baby standing as a complex symbol of joy, but also individual loss. (The idea is best articulated by Kollwitz later, in a work which shows a woman torn between the birth of her child’s life, and the death of her own.)

Death and Woman, Käthe Kollwitz (1910)

Biography matters in the history of Expressionism. And Making Modernism speaks to how these artists used their practice for personal liberation from the ideas and structures which confined feminism to the domestic sphere. These women – whose parents often saw their education as a contingency plan, in case of no marriage – grappled with sexism and misogyny in society, and amongst their men peers in the art movement.

Curating by theme and community rather than by artist allows for connections, and for different artists to come to the fore in different rooms. It’s a radical approach, which demands viewers reimagine outdated tropes. Still-lives are reclaimed, no longer a derogatory term, but an acknowledgement of the value of peace and confidence in the context of sociopolitical turmoil. It’s a stark contrast to the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype faced by their forebears like Van Gogh, and the typical great man narrative of the hero artist perpetuated in other shows. 

The cost is that their personal identities and journeys, scattered between works, are hard to follow and overwhelming to process. This sometimes-confusing path shouldn’t make them any less trailblazers. Biographies in the accompanying booklet help. The exhibition perhaps contains some blind spots; Hannah Höch, Dadaist and pioneer of photomontage and political collages, would be a welcome addition (not replacement) to the artists here. 

Not only did these artists not passively internalise traditions, but beat them back over the head with their own sticks. This manifests in a plurality of forms, from Kollwitz’s existential etchings to Modersohn-Becker’s life-size nudes, referencing fruits and flowers from the northern Renaissance Old Masters as Albrecht Dürer, in bold, simplified form. 

More subversive humour comes in the small, tightly-cropped paintings of everyday life. The personal is political, and we can’t help but feel Münter poking fun at sexist stereotypes with her photographic eye. Putting such a ‘minor’ work on the exhibition book might be a step too far – but isn’t that the point?

Still-life on the Tram (After Shopping), Gabriele Münter (c. 1912)

Whilst inspired by the metropolis, most of these women eventually opted for more rural locations and villages. It is here where Marianne Werefkin, ambivalent in the previous rooms, becomes the show’s ‘revelation’.

From her ‘elite’ (or rather, privileged) position, she paints the ‘recurring, rhythmic forms of the hunched figures’ around her, their ‘solidarity’ in the face of repetitive daily routines. Werefkin’s lurid neon landscapes and sarcastic titles suggest the colour to be found in these environments – and poke fun at those who fail to do so.

Life Behind Them, Marianne von Werefkin (1928)

Perhaps Picasso, Epstein, and Freud outweigh the contributions of these women to the movement, but their canonisation has inspired some less critical curation. Take Lucian Freud: New Perspectives, currently on show at the National Gallery. It euphemistically refers to his ‘controversial’ lifestyle, and leaves depictions of his daughters naked unlabelled, unnamed. 

By contrast, Making Modernism engages with the ethics of these artists using local children as models. Even the youngest women have agency. ‘Oh no, I ain’t doing none of that,’ says Elsbeth, Modersohn-Becker’s stepdaughter. The artist writes of this ‘spirited little person’ in her diary, and ‘hating the seducer in me’, in successfully bribing her to sit with a mark. This gendered language subtly speaks volumes of the sexual hierarchies in contemporary society. 

LEFT: Seated Nude Girl, Her Legs Pulled Up, Paula Modersohn-Becker (c. 1904) | RIGHT: Beta Naked, Ottilie Reylaender (c. 1900)

We are right to ask such questions, including why these individuals never receive solo exhibitions, when William Kentridge’s charcoals now span seventeen rooms across the main space. It’s a privilege reserved for Marina Abramović, who will be the first woman to exhibit alone across the RA’s entire main galleries next year.

‘What defines modern art is the participation of women, not just the style,’ says US art historian Diane Radycki. And Gabriele Münter – whose instantaneous works echo Alice Neel, fifty years before her time – certainly participated. When she first met Kandinsky, her tutor at art school, he was relatively unknown. But her canon is Rolodex of contacts, boasting her connections to Herwarth Walden, Der Sturm, and Paul Klee.

Man in an Armchair (Paul Klee), Gabriele Münter (1913)

She paints him, unnamed, in the house she purchased, a hybrid self-portrait and interior where her own presence is indicated by the empty chair. It’s a nod to Van Gogh, painted in her own ‘Yellow House’. (Post-impressionism affected Modersohn-Becker ‘like a thunderstorm’, her ‘Nude Girl with Flower Vases’ a clear homage to Paul Gauguin.) It’s also where they would hide and protect a significant amount of Nazi Degenerate Art, later donated to the Lenbachhaus Museum in Munich. 

Though engaged in contemporary struggles of their own, these artists thought in the longer term. Making Modernism merely enacts their efforts to entrench themselves in their networks and in art history, pushing back against the potential posthumous obscurity.

Kollwitz is notably absent from the final room. But her presence is felt: ‘By placing female subjectivity at the core of her practice, she, like Modersohn-Becker, Münter, and Werefkin, was instrumental in blazing a trail for Expressionist art, and in shaping the course of Modernism.’ It’s a stunning conclusion to an exhibition that one cannot leave unchanged.

When Radycki first saw Paula Modersohn-Becker’s art, photographed by her lecturer on a trip to Europe, she could ‘rely only on her eyes’ for its interpretation. By the time she was writing her dissertation in the 1980s, forty years after those photographs were taken, still nothing had been published on the artist in the English language. 

Making Modernism speaks directly to how women must fight to be included in art history. The parallels today are clear, for those who choose to see them.

Making Modernism: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin is on view at the Royal Academy until 12 February 2023. Free viewings for young people under 25 take place every Friday until 9pm. 

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
22/11/2022
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Exhibition Review: Making Modernism at the Royal Academy
Our take on the Royal Academy's new exhibition, spotlighting the unsung heroines of the art movement

Kinder, Küche, Kirche: three words which anchored the German women's social position to their body and biology. So when women artists started depicting domestic interiors as spaces to exchange ideas – and their own natures and portraits, not traditional landscapes or still lifes – they were radically reclaiming these sites as their own.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) is the most famous, and internationally represented, of the artists in Making Modernism, the first UK exhibition devoted to the women practising in Germany in the early 1900s, their contributions to 20th century Modernism hidden in history.

Drawing working class women from a staunchly socialist perspective, Kollwitz’s dark figurative works are a violent departure from the more bourgeois subjects of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Gabriele Münter, and Russian aristocrat Marianne von Werefkin. ‘Representing the joyous side simply did not appeal to me,’ she writes, though warmth is still carved into the deepest wounds of her charcoals and woodcuts.

Making Modernism takes a considered, intersectional approach to privilege, openly acknowledging how women’s admission remained restricted – to those with men artists in the family, access to private lessons, or Ladies’ Academies from the new Association of Women Artists. Others seized the opportunity to travel to cities, or rural artists’ colonies, where they often defied authority together. 

We learn by osmosis of their positionalities and prejudices in different environments, especially their fascination with androgynous and alternative subjects. Münter’s ‘Portrait of a Woman’ (1930), created from a memory of a Black woman on a train, is renamed to acknowledge racial differences in the movement.

But above all, we feel their thirst to drink it all in. These women share a less voyeuristic, and more absorptive, attitude towards their surroundings than their men contemporaries. We are with them as they copy classical portraits in museums, visit the Parisian studios of their favoured sculptors and post-Impressionists, and fuse them together in their own Expressionist, but timeless, aspects.

Self-portrait in Front of Window with View of Parisian Houses, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1900)

When Modersohn-Becker ascends, backed up by buildings, from the Campagne Première in Montparnasse, we see her painting herself in as part of the Parisian architecture – and by extension, its art history.  

Nose and chin aloft, she ‘breath[es] in the fresh air from the open window, aligns herself with the city’s modernity.’ The artist left her husband, who was frightened by the influence of French modernism, soon afterwards. 

Both Münter and Werefkin have long been swallowed into the histories of their partners, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky. But here, this isn’t the case; an experimental portrait of Clara Westhoff – a pioneering sculptor and artist – speaks first of her profession and creative relationship with Modersohn-Becker. Her married name, Rilke-Westhoff, and relationship with the Modernist writer Rainer Maria Rilke (through whom the two met Auguste Rodin) is addressed afterwards. It’s a subtle curatorial decision, but one that does as much heavy lifting as a double-barrelled name. 

Indeed, there’s a quiet power to all these captions, subverting the typical order of affairs in a women-first narrative. Take The German Woman at the Turn of the Century (1904) and Swedish feminist Ellen Key’s The Century of the Child (1900), both referenced before Sigmund Freud. This shouldn’t seem radical or progressive but, in the context of other UK arts exhibitions, it is.

Powerful wording mirrors the heroic and tragic stories of their subjects – including Modersohn-Becker, who died of a pregnancy-related pulmonary embolism shortly after returning to her husband. Simple themes, stark white and red walls, and quote-led captions all let the women’s works speak for themselves, as well as in conversation with each other. In ‘Intimacy’, Modersohn-Becker and Kollwitz are curated in conversation. 

Ottilie Reylaender (one of three other influencers, with Erma Bossi and Jacoba van Heemskercks) is placed opposite. A child herself, she practically follows Modersohn-Becker to Worpswede, coming across almost as a 20th century fangirl, ‘magnetically drawn’ to her corrupting influence against their teachers.

All of these women engaged with Expressionism; Münter and Werefkin were founder members of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists' Association Munich, NKVM) in 1909, which spawned the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an avant-garde Expressionist group, and the first modernist secession. Most were members of multiple groups, or exhibited across them. In 1924, Werefkin was inspired to establish another, The Great Bear, in her locale of Ascona, Switzerland. 

Their paintings share the quality of hybridity, between rural and urban environments, and constant reinvention. Never static, they were ‘continually reinventing their approach in response to their surroundings.’ Using similar media with different intentions – Kollwitz called self-portraiture a ‘visual form of soliloquy’– it’s a privilege to see a plurality of women’s experiences, as travellers, debaters, and workers.  

One theme – ‘The Century of the Child’ – explicitly focuses on the enduring expectation that mothers suspend their artistic careers for childbirth, with the baby standing as a complex symbol of joy, but also individual loss. (The idea is best articulated by Kollwitz later, in a work which shows a woman torn between the birth of her child’s life, and the death of her own.)

Death and Woman, Käthe Kollwitz (1910)

Biography matters in the history of Expressionism. And Making Modernism speaks to how these artists used their practice for personal liberation from the ideas and structures which confined feminism to the domestic sphere. These women – whose parents often saw their education as a contingency plan, in case of no marriage – grappled with sexism and misogyny in society, and amongst their men peers in the art movement.

Curating by theme and community rather than by artist allows for connections, and for different artists to come to the fore in different rooms. It’s a radical approach, which demands viewers reimagine outdated tropes. Still-lives are reclaimed, no longer a derogatory term, but an acknowledgement of the value of peace and confidence in the context of sociopolitical turmoil. It’s a stark contrast to the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype faced by their forebears like Van Gogh, and the typical great man narrative of the hero artist perpetuated in other shows. 

The cost is that their personal identities and journeys, scattered between works, are hard to follow and overwhelming to process. This sometimes-confusing path shouldn’t make them any less trailblazers. Biographies in the accompanying booklet help. The exhibition perhaps contains some blind spots; Hannah Höch, Dadaist and pioneer of photomontage and political collages, would be a welcome addition (not replacement) to the artists here. 

Not only did these artists not passively internalise traditions, but beat them back over the head with their own sticks. This manifests in a plurality of forms, from Kollwitz’s existential etchings to Modersohn-Becker’s life-size nudes, referencing fruits and flowers from the northern Renaissance Old Masters as Albrecht Dürer, in bold, simplified form. 

More subversive humour comes in the small, tightly-cropped paintings of everyday life. The personal is political, and we can’t help but feel Münter poking fun at sexist stereotypes with her photographic eye. Putting such a ‘minor’ work on the exhibition book might be a step too far – but isn’t that the point?

Still-life on the Tram (After Shopping), Gabriele Münter (c. 1912)

Whilst inspired by the metropolis, most of these women eventually opted for more rural locations and villages. It is here where Marianne Werefkin, ambivalent in the previous rooms, becomes the show’s ‘revelation’.

From her ‘elite’ (or rather, privileged) position, she paints the ‘recurring, rhythmic forms of the hunched figures’ around her, their ‘solidarity’ in the face of repetitive daily routines. Werefkin’s lurid neon landscapes and sarcastic titles suggest the colour to be found in these environments – and poke fun at those who fail to do so.

Life Behind Them, Marianne von Werefkin (1928)

Perhaps Picasso, Epstein, and Freud outweigh the contributions of these women to the movement, but their canonisation has inspired some less critical curation. Take Lucian Freud: New Perspectives, currently on show at the National Gallery. It euphemistically refers to his ‘controversial’ lifestyle, and leaves depictions of his daughters naked unlabelled, unnamed. 

By contrast, Making Modernism engages with the ethics of these artists using local children as models. Even the youngest women have agency. ‘Oh no, I ain’t doing none of that,’ says Elsbeth, Modersohn-Becker’s stepdaughter. The artist writes of this ‘spirited little person’ in her diary, and ‘hating the seducer in me’, in successfully bribing her to sit with a mark. This gendered language subtly speaks volumes of the sexual hierarchies in contemporary society. 

LEFT: Seated Nude Girl, Her Legs Pulled Up, Paula Modersohn-Becker (c. 1904) | RIGHT: Beta Naked, Ottilie Reylaender (c. 1900)

We are right to ask such questions, including why these individuals never receive solo exhibitions, when William Kentridge’s charcoals now span seventeen rooms across the main space. It’s a privilege reserved for Marina Abramović, who will be the first woman to exhibit alone across the RA’s entire main galleries next year.

‘What defines modern art is the participation of women, not just the style,’ says US art historian Diane Radycki. And Gabriele Münter – whose instantaneous works echo Alice Neel, fifty years before her time – certainly participated. When she first met Kandinsky, her tutor at art school, he was relatively unknown. But her canon is Rolodex of contacts, boasting her connections to Herwarth Walden, Der Sturm, and Paul Klee.

Man in an Armchair (Paul Klee), Gabriele Münter (1913)

She paints him, unnamed, in the house she purchased, a hybrid self-portrait and interior where her own presence is indicated by the empty chair. It’s a nod to Van Gogh, painted in her own ‘Yellow House’. (Post-impressionism affected Modersohn-Becker ‘like a thunderstorm’, her ‘Nude Girl with Flower Vases’ a clear homage to Paul Gauguin.) It’s also where they would hide and protect a significant amount of Nazi Degenerate Art, later donated to the Lenbachhaus Museum in Munich. 

Though engaged in contemporary struggles of their own, these artists thought in the longer term. Making Modernism merely enacts their efforts to entrench themselves in their networks and in art history, pushing back against the potential posthumous obscurity.

Kollwitz is notably absent from the final room. But her presence is felt: ‘By placing female subjectivity at the core of her practice, she, like Modersohn-Becker, Münter, and Werefkin, was instrumental in blazing a trail for Expressionist art, and in shaping the course of Modernism.’ It’s a stunning conclusion to an exhibition that one cannot leave unchanged.

When Radycki first saw Paula Modersohn-Becker’s art, photographed by her lecturer on a trip to Europe, she could ‘rely only on her eyes’ for its interpretation. By the time she was writing her dissertation in the 1980s, forty years after those photographs were taken, still nothing had been published on the artist in the English language. 

Making Modernism speaks directly to how women must fight to be included in art history. The parallels today are clear, for those who choose to see them.

Making Modernism: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin is on view at the Royal Academy until 12 February 2023. Free viewings for young people under 25 take place every Friday until 9pm. 

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22/11/2022
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Jelena Sofronijevic
Exhibition Review: Making Modernism at the Royal Academy
Our take on the Royal Academy's new exhibition, spotlighting the unsung heroines of the art movement

Kinder, Küche, Kirche: three words which anchored the German women's social position to their body and biology. So when women artists started depicting domestic interiors as spaces to exchange ideas – and their own natures and portraits, not traditional landscapes or still lifes – they were radically reclaiming these sites as their own.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) is the most famous, and internationally represented, of the artists in Making Modernism, the first UK exhibition devoted to the women practising in Germany in the early 1900s, their contributions to 20th century Modernism hidden in history.

Drawing working class women from a staunchly socialist perspective, Kollwitz’s dark figurative works are a violent departure from the more bourgeois subjects of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Gabriele Münter, and Russian aristocrat Marianne von Werefkin. ‘Representing the joyous side simply did not appeal to me,’ she writes, though warmth is still carved into the deepest wounds of her charcoals and woodcuts.

Making Modernism takes a considered, intersectional approach to privilege, openly acknowledging how women’s admission remained restricted – to those with men artists in the family, access to private lessons, or Ladies’ Academies from the new Association of Women Artists. Others seized the opportunity to travel to cities, or rural artists’ colonies, where they often defied authority together. 

We learn by osmosis of their positionalities and prejudices in different environments, especially their fascination with androgynous and alternative subjects. Münter’s ‘Portrait of a Woman’ (1930), created from a memory of a Black woman on a train, is renamed to acknowledge racial differences in the movement.

But above all, we feel their thirst to drink it all in. These women share a less voyeuristic, and more absorptive, attitude towards their surroundings than their men contemporaries. We are with them as they copy classical portraits in museums, visit the Parisian studios of their favoured sculptors and post-Impressionists, and fuse them together in their own Expressionist, but timeless, aspects.

Self-portrait in Front of Window with View of Parisian Houses, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1900)

When Modersohn-Becker ascends, backed up by buildings, from the Campagne Première in Montparnasse, we see her painting herself in as part of the Parisian architecture – and by extension, its art history.  

Nose and chin aloft, she ‘breath[es] in the fresh air from the open window, aligns herself with the city’s modernity.’ The artist left her husband, who was frightened by the influence of French modernism, soon afterwards. 

Both Münter and Werefkin have long been swallowed into the histories of their partners, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky. But here, this isn’t the case; an experimental portrait of Clara Westhoff – a pioneering sculptor and artist – speaks first of her profession and creative relationship with Modersohn-Becker. Her married name, Rilke-Westhoff, and relationship with the Modernist writer Rainer Maria Rilke (through whom the two met Auguste Rodin) is addressed afterwards. It’s a subtle curatorial decision, but one that does as much heavy lifting as a double-barrelled name. 

Indeed, there’s a quiet power to all these captions, subverting the typical order of affairs in a women-first narrative. Take The German Woman at the Turn of the Century (1904) and Swedish feminist Ellen Key’s The Century of the Child (1900), both referenced before Sigmund Freud. This shouldn’t seem radical or progressive but, in the context of other UK arts exhibitions, it is.

Powerful wording mirrors the heroic and tragic stories of their subjects – including Modersohn-Becker, who died of a pregnancy-related pulmonary embolism shortly after returning to her husband. Simple themes, stark white and red walls, and quote-led captions all let the women’s works speak for themselves, as well as in conversation with each other. In ‘Intimacy’, Modersohn-Becker and Kollwitz are curated in conversation. 

Ottilie Reylaender (one of three other influencers, with Erma Bossi and Jacoba van Heemskercks) is placed opposite. A child herself, she practically follows Modersohn-Becker to Worpswede, coming across almost as a 20th century fangirl, ‘magnetically drawn’ to her corrupting influence against their teachers.

All of these women engaged with Expressionism; Münter and Werefkin were founder members of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists' Association Munich, NKVM) in 1909, which spawned the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an avant-garde Expressionist group, and the first modernist secession. Most were members of multiple groups, or exhibited across them. In 1924, Werefkin was inspired to establish another, The Great Bear, in her locale of Ascona, Switzerland. 

Their paintings share the quality of hybridity, between rural and urban environments, and constant reinvention. Never static, they were ‘continually reinventing their approach in response to their surroundings.’ Using similar media with different intentions – Kollwitz called self-portraiture a ‘visual form of soliloquy’– it’s a privilege to see a plurality of women’s experiences, as travellers, debaters, and workers.  

One theme – ‘The Century of the Child’ – explicitly focuses on the enduring expectation that mothers suspend their artistic careers for childbirth, with the baby standing as a complex symbol of joy, but also individual loss. (The idea is best articulated by Kollwitz later, in a work which shows a woman torn between the birth of her child’s life, and the death of her own.)

Death and Woman, Käthe Kollwitz (1910)

Biography matters in the history of Expressionism. And Making Modernism speaks to how these artists used their practice for personal liberation from the ideas and structures which confined feminism to the domestic sphere. These women – whose parents often saw their education as a contingency plan, in case of no marriage – grappled with sexism and misogyny in society, and amongst their men peers in the art movement.

Curating by theme and community rather than by artist allows for connections, and for different artists to come to the fore in different rooms. It’s a radical approach, which demands viewers reimagine outdated tropes. Still-lives are reclaimed, no longer a derogatory term, but an acknowledgement of the value of peace and confidence in the context of sociopolitical turmoil. It’s a stark contrast to the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype faced by their forebears like Van Gogh, and the typical great man narrative of the hero artist perpetuated in other shows. 

The cost is that their personal identities and journeys, scattered between works, are hard to follow and overwhelming to process. This sometimes-confusing path shouldn’t make them any less trailblazers. Biographies in the accompanying booklet help. The exhibition perhaps contains some blind spots; Hannah Höch, Dadaist and pioneer of photomontage and political collages, would be a welcome addition (not replacement) to the artists here. 

Not only did these artists not passively internalise traditions, but beat them back over the head with their own sticks. This manifests in a plurality of forms, from Kollwitz’s existential etchings to Modersohn-Becker’s life-size nudes, referencing fruits and flowers from the northern Renaissance Old Masters as Albrecht Dürer, in bold, simplified form. 

More subversive humour comes in the small, tightly-cropped paintings of everyday life. The personal is political, and we can’t help but feel Münter poking fun at sexist stereotypes with her photographic eye. Putting such a ‘minor’ work on the exhibition book might be a step too far – but isn’t that the point?

Still-life on the Tram (After Shopping), Gabriele Münter (c. 1912)

Whilst inspired by the metropolis, most of these women eventually opted for more rural locations and villages. It is here where Marianne Werefkin, ambivalent in the previous rooms, becomes the show’s ‘revelation’.

From her ‘elite’ (or rather, privileged) position, she paints the ‘recurring, rhythmic forms of the hunched figures’ around her, their ‘solidarity’ in the face of repetitive daily routines. Werefkin’s lurid neon landscapes and sarcastic titles suggest the colour to be found in these environments – and poke fun at those who fail to do so.

Life Behind Them, Marianne von Werefkin (1928)

Perhaps Picasso, Epstein, and Freud outweigh the contributions of these women to the movement, but their canonisation has inspired some less critical curation. Take Lucian Freud: New Perspectives, currently on show at the National Gallery. It euphemistically refers to his ‘controversial’ lifestyle, and leaves depictions of his daughters naked unlabelled, unnamed. 

By contrast, Making Modernism engages with the ethics of these artists using local children as models. Even the youngest women have agency. ‘Oh no, I ain’t doing none of that,’ says Elsbeth, Modersohn-Becker’s stepdaughter. The artist writes of this ‘spirited little person’ in her diary, and ‘hating the seducer in me’, in successfully bribing her to sit with a mark. This gendered language subtly speaks volumes of the sexual hierarchies in contemporary society. 

LEFT: Seated Nude Girl, Her Legs Pulled Up, Paula Modersohn-Becker (c. 1904) | RIGHT: Beta Naked, Ottilie Reylaender (c. 1900)

We are right to ask such questions, including why these individuals never receive solo exhibitions, when William Kentridge’s charcoals now span seventeen rooms across the main space. It’s a privilege reserved for Marina Abramović, who will be the first woman to exhibit alone across the RA’s entire main galleries next year.

‘What defines modern art is the participation of women, not just the style,’ says US art historian Diane Radycki. And Gabriele Münter – whose instantaneous works echo Alice Neel, fifty years before her time – certainly participated. When she first met Kandinsky, her tutor at art school, he was relatively unknown. But her canon is Rolodex of contacts, boasting her connections to Herwarth Walden, Der Sturm, and Paul Klee.

Man in an Armchair (Paul Klee), Gabriele Münter (1913)

She paints him, unnamed, in the house she purchased, a hybrid self-portrait and interior where her own presence is indicated by the empty chair. It’s a nod to Van Gogh, painted in her own ‘Yellow House’. (Post-impressionism affected Modersohn-Becker ‘like a thunderstorm’, her ‘Nude Girl with Flower Vases’ a clear homage to Paul Gauguin.) It’s also where they would hide and protect a significant amount of Nazi Degenerate Art, later donated to the Lenbachhaus Museum in Munich. 

Though engaged in contemporary struggles of their own, these artists thought in the longer term. Making Modernism merely enacts their efforts to entrench themselves in their networks and in art history, pushing back against the potential posthumous obscurity.

Kollwitz is notably absent from the final room. But her presence is felt: ‘By placing female subjectivity at the core of her practice, she, like Modersohn-Becker, Münter, and Werefkin, was instrumental in blazing a trail for Expressionist art, and in shaping the course of Modernism.’ It’s a stunning conclusion to an exhibition that one cannot leave unchanged.

When Radycki first saw Paula Modersohn-Becker’s art, photographed by her lecturer on a trip to Europe, she could ‘rely only on her eyes’ for its interpretation. By the time she was writing her dissertation in the 1980s, forty years after those photographs were taken, still nothing had been published on the artist in the English language. 

Making Modernism speaks directly to how women must fight to be included in art history. The parallels today are clear, for those who choose to see them.

Making Modernism: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin is on view at the Royal Academy until 12 February 2023. Free viewings for young people under 25 take place every Friday until 9pm. 

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

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