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Book Review: Marie Darrieusecq: Being Here is Everything, The Life of Paula M. Becker

Brooklyn Rail: Art Books - October 5, 2017

The portrait’s subject, a young woman with a snub nose in three-quarter profile, stares back at her viewer, the wide-set brown eyes direct but inscrutable. Something wry tugs at the corners of her mouth, leaving her with neither a smile nor a frown. Her hair is wrapped atop her head, the better for us to see her long neck and sloped shoulders, which are bare. In fact, she is nude to the waist, where only a gossamer cloth appears to conceal her lower half. Small, pointed breasts jut in opposite directions, and a large, amber-beaded necklace rests between them. The woman’s belly also thrusts outward, and she cradles it, the protective and universal gesture of a pregnant woman. The ambient light of the canvas is golden and enveloping, and seems to emanate from the amber beads of the necklace, and also her pastel skin. This is Self-Portrait on Sixth Wedding Anniversary (1906) by the German Expressionist painter Paula Modersohn- Becker. And as Marie Darrieussecq writes of it in Being Here is Everything: The Life of Paula M. Becker (Semiotext(e), 2017), “Take note: it is the first time. The first time that a woman has painted herself naked.”


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