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Otto Modersohn - Village street in Worpswede

by Charlott Feline Bauer

More than a hundred years ago, one of the most important poets of modern literature, Rainer Maria Rilke, described a small village in Lower Saxony as follows:

"And yet all the past and the splendor of all pasts seemed somehow to be contained in it. As if a colorful age had been pounded and then stirred into the marshes from which this world arose.'' [1]

This world, of which we speak here, tells of the village of Worpswede, not far from Bremen, and its surrounding landscapes. In view of the picturesque nature with its marshy moorlands, numerous birch trees and endless horizons, as well as the rural life of the villagers, at the end of the 19th century three young men decided to found an artists' colony in the village, among them: Otto Modersohn, Fritz Mackensen and Hans am Ende. With its obsolete attitude towards the academy and the approach to create art with a direct relation to nature, far away from urban life, it can be understood as an offshoot of the Barbizon school, which was constituted at the beginning of the 19th century, near Paris, under the French landscape painter Theodore Rousseau.

The painting is exemplary for the œuvre of Otto Modersohn, from which numerous landscape paintings emerged and was created at the time of his work in Worpswede. A slightly sloping road opens up to the viewer and stands next to the houses placed on the right half of the picture in the focus of the painting. The front house, a barn, as well as the sky, which is partially covered by clouds, form the brightest points of the painting with their color design. The rotten state of the barn, the wooden fence along the path, as well as the chickens and the clothes of the figures in the picture program, in addition to the rural scenery, underline the village life and its everyday life. A few meters behind the barn stands a half-timbered house typical of Worpswede architecture, also known as the "Hallenhaus" or "Niedersachsenhaus". In particular, the brown thatched roof made of reeds, here forming the darkest point and contrasting with the barn, is one of the essential features of this architecture. The shadows, which make one think that the sun is low, the yellow flowers on the meadows, the dark cloud in the upper left corner of the picture and the almost completely evaporated puddles at the bottom of the picture are reason to believe that Modersohn captured here a cool, summer afternoon after a recent rain shower. With this work, Otto Modersohn created one of his most famous landscape paintings.

Otto Modersohn was influenced in his childhood by the Westphalian town of Soest with its sacred buildings and many small gardens. After a stay in Münster, he decided to pursue an academic career and went to the Düsseldorf School of Painting, where he developed a friendship with fellow student Fritz Mackensen. This was followed by a stay at the university in Kassel. But neither in Düsseldorf nor in Kassel did he find what he was looking for in his training as an artist, so that when he moved to Worpswede and founded the artists' colony he finally decided against an academic career. Other well-known artists who later joined the colony included Fritz Overbeck, Heinrich Vogeler, Clara Westhoff, August Haake and Otto Modersohn's second wife, Paula Modersohn-Becker, who clearly influenced and shaped him in his artistic work. The artists' colony, because of its artistic diversity and skill in Impressionist and Expressionist art as well as with its artifacts of the Jungendstil, is considered one of the most significant artists' associations in German art history.

[1] Rilke, Rainer Maria: Worpswede, 12th ed, Frankfurt am Main 2015, p.116.

Otto Modersohn - Village street in Worpswede.

Oil on canvas, 1896/67, 102 cm x 170 cm , Otto Modersohn Museum in Fischerhude


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