AwardsInternational Status, German Government Highly Commended, German Center for Film Classification
CreditsDirector: Friedhelm Heyde
Catalog number # 440
12 minutes Color
Age Range: 14 to Adult
Closed Captions and Interactive Transcript
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Little water-courses, often dividing. A sand-dune set on the flat marsh. An ever-changing atmosphere which transforms color and form. That is Worpswede. It lies in the fens north-east of Bremen, a part of the country which was cultivated late and even now has something untamed about it.
Here lived the painter Paula Modersohn-Becker; and the power of the landscape lives on in her work. Work unmistakably her own.
The Barkenhof in Worpswede was at that time, in the eighteen-nineties, the center for a group of painters, sculptors and poets. Heinrich Vogeler, Fritz Mackensen, Otto Modersohn, Hans am Ende, Clara Westhoff and Rainer Maria Rilke.
This circle took up the girl-painter of twenty-two. Mackensen became her teacher. Modersohn, the only one who grasped her quality, became her husband. Paula soon outgrew the limited artistic possibilities of this environment. So far, Worpswede painters had concerned themselves in various ways with the sentiment of the landscape. But she found in the full, earthy colors and attenuated forms the elements of a new formal language and expression.
"Worpswede, the birches, the fir-trees and the meadows. The brown of the moor, a delicious brown. The canal with its reflections, as black as pitch."
Worpswede roused in her the faculty of seeing things as simple, big and monumental.
"If one only could, one should write down the people and the landscape in a sign-language." She was by nature shy and timid, but her will was unbreakable. She went her own way.
"I work with a passion which shuts everything else out."
She was not concerned with "truth to nature". She struggles to simplify Nature to the furthest point possible.
"The great simplicity of form, that is the wonder."
She experienced people as part of the landscape, like the houses and trees. That is how they appear in her pictures. At Paula's first exhibition in Bremen, the people turned away. They found her paintings simply ugly.
"I feel how my work startles people. Still, I must go on, according to my experience and my conception and my point of view. It is the vividness with which one grasps the object which makes beauty in art."
She was attracted to children again and again.
"Today I drew a little girl of ten, out of the poor house. She was happy there, she said, and her small face glowed. A simple heart is satisfied with very little."
Children asleep, still a part of Nature. Children who find a miracle in a flower. Children afraid already of the problems of the world . Children with lanterns wrapped in dreams and expectation.
The encounter with modem French painting in Paris confirmed for Paula her own groping toward a new form of expression.
"I am so grateful for this stay in Paris. And yet, really it is only a continuation of Worpswede."
The view from the Paris studio, painted in the tones of the Worpswede landscape.
"Home at last! I shall paint the poorhouse people together, in groups. I understand our folk here better now, with their biblical simplicity. I long for this simplicity to grow great in me."
The woman who rests her head resignedly on her hand. The old woman with the glass bottle, a monolith among the rigid flowers like a symbol of Nature. Portraits of more complicated intellectual types achieve the same simplicity. Werner Sombart the sociologist for instance, or the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
When she visited the moor farms, Paula took away with her impressions of what she saw. In the creative process, these became transformed. The loaf of bread, the milk-pan all achieve a kind of abstract quality. Fruit in a folded cloth can function like a piece of music. The surface of the paintings, the brushwork also gain a personal character.
"I want to give the intoxicating sense of color, its fullness, excitement and power. I dream of movement in color, the subtle glowing of one object through the other. I hope to achieve this by glazing, perhaps with a thickly-painted ground."
"I must learn to express the soft vibration of the things. Their crispness. The odd sense of expectation which velvety material and flowers possess. That is a simple generous beauty which I must try to achieve."
"Close observation combined with great simplicity, that is the way. Greatness lies there."
Along the ditches on the moor, at the peat-cuttings in the bark of trees she found this crispness, this vibration which she brought into her work. Towards the end of her short life, objects lose more and more of their material character. They appear as signs and symbols on the painted surface.
She found herself a mystery also. She entrusted her thoughts and intuitions to a diary, which became famous as the document of her development.
"I am my own greatest riddle."
She looked at herself in the mirror and painted what she saw as a kind of question to herself. The self-portraits show her as if she were in a timeless dress. Sometimes she is unclothed, simply woman, any woman, in whom the sense of motherhood is just becoming conscious.
"Motherhood is a part of every woman. For me it is an impenetrable mystery, a mystery which I salute whenever I encounter it."
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