Paula Modersohn-Becker was a powerful German Expressionist painter and the first female artist to paint a nude self-portrait. Doubly shocking was the fact that she was nursing her newborn child as well. She painted many scenes and portraits of children, particularly little girls. Modersohn-Becker’s girls generally have a bright palette, yet there is a melancholy in their expressions, a knowing or simplicity that cannot be painted away.

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Bauernkind auf rotgewürfeltem Kissen (Peasant Child on red-checked pillows), c.1904. Sammlung Ludwig Roselius, Bremen. Wiki Commons.

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Bauernkind auf rotgewürfeltem Kissen (Peasant Child on red-checked pillows), c.1904. Sammlung Ludwig Roselius, Bremen. Wiki Commons.

In Peasant Child on Red-Checked Pillows, the little girl sits perfectly still in awe of the flower she holds tightly in her hands. The intensity of this child’s downward gaze gives the feeling that she is in prayer. Perhaps giving thanks for the beautiful treasure she has found in the flower. The mottled brown background blanks out the world around, like Manet or Velasquez.

Without a context, we can only assume that she is not entirely alone or there would be some distress. She may be exactly as she appears and we can only be happy for her peace and calm.

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