Otto Modersohn (1865-1943)


Born in Westphalia (Germany) in 1865, Otto Modersohn studied at the Art Academy of Düsseldorf from 1884 and then at the Fine Arts Academy in Karlsruhe in 1888. During this period he essentially painted small landscapes bathed in shimmering light with roads and rivers running across them: they reveal a definite relationship with painters of the Barbizon school such as Daubigne, Dupré and Rousseau, who the German artist described as 'close friends'.

Whilst travelling around Germany in the summer of 1889 he discovered Worpswede (Lower Saxony), a village with moss-covered thatched roofs, nestled in the heart of an undulating landscape that stretched as far as the eye could see. Charmed the moment he saw it, he decided to set up an art colony there with Fritz Mackensen and Hans am Ende. This natural setting encouraged him to move towards a style of painting that was no longer optical but originating in expressive blocks of colour in an attempt to capture the essence of things. In the autumn of 1895 the group of artists was resoundingly successful at the international exhibition at Munich's Glaspalast (Glass Palace).

the death of his first wife - who left him a daughter, Elsbeth - Otto Modersohn married the painter Paula Becker in 1901 who he had met in Paris (today she is known by the name Paula Modersohn-Becker). Through contact with her, he developed a style of simplicity and humanity, but she died shortly after having given birth to their daughter Mathilde, known as Tille, in 1907.

The artist left to settle in the neighbouring village of Fischerhude and got remarried in 1909 to Louise Breling with whom he had two sons, Ulrich and Christian. His art moved towards a darker palette, the well-defined coloured zones giving way to a hazy or misty atmosphere like that of winter days on the banks of the Wümme river. The painter showed a predilection for blue-grey light, which symbolised his search for intimacy.

From 1922, Otto Modersohn undertook long study trips throughout Germany and ended up buying a farm in Gailenberg in Bad Hinderlang in 1930: he would go there to work every summer until 1935, the year he lost the sight in his right eye. From then his painting, done in a workshop, would reflect the state of his soul: autumn and winter landscapes, views of cemeteries.

Following his death which was in 1943, the same year as that of his son Ulrich who had left to fight in Russia, Louise and Christian opened a gallery in Gailenberg in 1948. The Otto-Modersohn Museum opened in Fischerhude in 1974, crowned in 2015 by the opening of a museum in Tecklenburg (Westphalia) devoted to work from his early period.

(Martine Heudron)

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