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5 Things You Didn't Know About the First Woman to Paint Herself Nude

Girl with Child Modersohn-Becker

Paula Modersohn-Becker is considered by many art critics to be modern painting's missing link. She is often forgotten as one of the pivotal artists who created modernism in the early 20th century together with acclaimed painters like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

Modersohn-Becker was born on February 8, 1876, in Dresden, Germany, and led a challenging personal life from a turbulent marriage to a struggle against poverty. She died on November 30, 1907, shortly after giving birth to her first child. Art historian Diane Radycki described her as the first modern woman artist who through her contemporaneous letters "reveals the personal cost when one woman genius wants it all — a big career and motherhood — in an era before women had the vote."

Here are five things you didn't know about this awesome woman:

1. Modersohn-Becker set a new example for painting the female nude unlike any male artist
Proponents of Modernsohn-Becker say she paints the female body without any romanticism or sentiment, and instead commits to a realistic portrayal of women whether it is the awkward pose of a mother and child to the natural look of skin and pubic hair.

2. She is the first woman to do a nude self-portrait
Before Modersohn-Becker’s time women artists in modernism did not approach self-portraits in the nude. Artists such as Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot were fully clothed. Female painters following Modersohn-Becker like Frida Kahlo continued to challenge the conventions of female self-portraits.

3. Her work may have assisted Pablo Picasso in a seminal portrait of Gertrude Stein
Picasso's knowledge of a 1906 Modersohn-Becker portrait may have helped him figure out how to paint the head of the famous author that year in what became a groundbreaking portrait in the history of modern art.

4. She started studying art when she was 12 years old
In 1888, Modersohn-Becker began drawing and she completed her education at St. John's Wood School of Art in England. From 1896-1898, she attended the School for Women Artists in Berlin and is noted as having an Expressionist style of painting.

5. Modersohn-Becker's letters and journals gained popularity in Europe, years after her death
Like many infamous artists, Modersohn-Becker's art became known by the elite posthumously but her diary entries reached an even bigger audience in the 20s as they illustrated her journey from an energetic teenager to an ambitious married woman.

We're in awe of Modersohn-Becker's formative pieces in modern art and hope she can continue to inspire female artists to follow their ambitions.

NEXT: Artist's Identity »

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Artist and Mom
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Photo Credit: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images