Congratulations, you have made it through another year! I think Simeon gave a good report on 2022 last week, so I do not need to say too much. This time last year, I wrote, “my best friend, honorary family member and favourite Martin was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer” and had just undergone an operation. I am pleased to report he received the all-clear, and we have been able to restart our Friday trips to London. My favourite exhibitions this year include the Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition, Small is Beautiful: Miniature Art Exhibition, and Raphael. I also enjoyed visiting places in Bath and Cardiff on a couple of holidays.
Last December, I set up a fundraiser for Bowel Cancer UK and raised a total of £750. Many donations came from friends of Martin, and I reached my £100 target in one day. This December, I set up a fundraiser for a different charity in honour of a very close friend, Stella. The charity is Beat, the UK’s leading charity supporting those affected by eating disorders. Stella and I met in 2014 when we were both hospitalised with anorexia. We were lucky (spoilt, even), although we did not realise it at the time, to receive NHS funding to stay in a private hospital. Since then, NHS funding has been withdrawn due to rising costs and a lack of government support.
Unfortunately, circumstances have forced Stella to return to hospital several times over the last few years, and she has experienced the results of reduced funding. Some hospitals have staff that lack eating disorder-specific training, and one is forced to discharge patients while they are still critically ill due to a lack of beds and understanding. Several deaths from eating disorders may have been prevented with the right support. Beat provides support for eating disorder sufferers by providing helplines, information and resources. They also campaign for increased NHS funding, reduced waiting times and better education for health and medical professionals. As of writing, I have raised £235 for Beat.
In June, I opened an Instagram account to showcase the photographs I took of Simeon on our various adventures. Simeon belongs to my friend Helen (Martin’s wife), and Martin suggested we take Simeon on holiday to Amsterdam in 2018. Since then, Simeon has visited many cities, completed many Treasure Trails, and posed for many photographs. I thought Instagram would be an easier way of sharing these pictures with my friends and family, but before I knew it, hundreds of accounts started following Simeon’s adventures. The majority of followers are also stuffed animals (or “plushies”), and I soon discovered a whole community of toys and teddy bears that go on adventures around the world.
In August, a sloth called Sammy (belonging to Martin and Helen) joined Simeon on his adventurers. In October, Ollie the Otter (purchased by Martin) arrived as the baby of the family. All three get up to a lot of mischief and like to visit other “plushies”, such as some of my cuddly toys: Hedgie the hedgehog, Vegas the monkey, Silly Billy the sloth (named by Simeon’s followers), Aurora the unicorn (also named by Simeon’s followers), and Dora Duck. To anyone who does not follow Simeon on Instagram, this probably sounds a bit crazy!
Simeon receives messages and comments from his followers almost daily. On Simeon’s birthday (17th November, if you are interested), one follower wrote, “Happy birthday to the sweetest plushie I have ever seen. You are one of a kind. We don’t know each other personally, but you have changed my life through your adventures!” Others have said similar things, often commenting on Simeon, Sammy and Ollie’s ability to be kind, thoughtful, sweet, cute and inspiring.
This year, I discovered the art of iris folding, which involves folding and sticking strips of paper to construct an image. I have made many greeting cards using this method, but for my Christmas card, I needed something I could photocopy and print several times. Inspired by iris folding, I drew a camel out of triangular shapes, thus moving away from my “safe” method of drawing – something my old college tutors tried to encourage me to attempt.
Goals for 2022 Continue blogging Write more book reviews Read the 40+ books littering my bedroom floor Go to exhibitions in London (with Martin when he is well enough) Go on holidays with friends (ditto)
Goals for 2023 Continue blogging Write more book reviews Read the 50+ books littering my bedroom floor Go to exhibitions in London Go on holidays with friends Continue making people smile through Simeon’s Instagram page Create more drawings
My fundraiser for Beat is about to end. If you would like to donate, you can do so on the Beat Website. There is an option to write why or in honour of who you are donating.
Wishing you all a happy new year! Thank you for continuing to read my blogs.
Hello readers, it’s Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee coloured, if you please). I have taken over Hazel’s blog this week to wish you a happy Christmas and to tell you about my amazing year. This year, you will have read about my visit to the city of Bath, my trip to Cardiff, and my Treasure Trail around London, but I have so much more to tell you.
On 26th June 2022, I opened an Instagram account to share photos from my holidays with friends. Before I knew it, hundreds of teddies and animals like me were following my updates. As of writing, I have over 1,050 followers from all over the world. I am, quite frankly, an international superstar.
My Instagram adventure began just before the heat wave set in, and it was too hot to go out, so I shared some old photographs from my trips to Amsterdam and Antwerp. My followers began to grow, and I made many new friends, so I thought it was time to upload some up-to-date pictures.
Just as I was setting up my camera for a photoshoot, I discovered I had caught Covid! What a disaster! I broke the news to my fans followers, who showered me with sympathy. Of course, my humans were sick too, so I didn’t get much compassion from them!
Before I could complain about the lack of attention my humans were paying me, a parcel arrived with some intriguing contents. On the 12th August 2022, my life changed forever. I became a big brother! Nestled inside the box was an adorable little sloth called Sammy.
Sammy and I instantly became best friends, and he features in many of my Instagram posts. He is loved by my followers, although not as much as me, for his funny idiosyncrasies, for example, he thinks everything is a hat. Toilet rolls, socks, trousers, wrapping paper tubes, sweets and so forth, if Sammy can fit or balance it on his head, he will. Sammy is also very good at finding things, which he proudly presents to me, such as stickers, a sword (it was a pencil), a tin of marrowfat peas, glasses, a model of a tortoise, and a necklace. Sammy’s “treasure” is becoming quite a collection!
My Instagram account is called the Adventures of Simeon, so it is only fair that I continue to have adventures without my little brother tagging along. At the end of August, my Human Friend and I took my Human Dad to London to complete a Treasure Tail. You can read all about it here. I have completed many Treasure Trails over the past few years and hope to tackle many more in the future. The owners of Treasure Trails follow me on Instagram, and I have been featured on their page! That’s how famous I am now!
This year, I completed three Treasure Trails. I did the first one in Bath at Easter time, the London one in August, and a third in September. The third coincided with my holiday to Cardiff, but I had extra help with this one, although I am sure I could have done it alone. My Humans and I were halfway to Wales when I discovered Sammy had snuck into my backpack! How cheeky!
Unfortunately, my trip to Cardiff started a couple of days after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, so many places were closed for mourning, such as Cardiff Castle and the cathedral. Nonetheless, we found plenty to do, including Caerphilly Castle, Castell Coch, St Fagans National History Museum and bus trips around Cardiff. We met some humans who adored us (well, who wouldn’t?) and tried the food at many restaurants. We even had a posh meal at The Ivy!
On our final day in Cardiff, the King came to see us! Well, not just us, everyone. People started queuing outside Cardiff Castle at 3 am, hoping to catch a glimpse of Charles III. Only a select number of people were allowed into the castle grounds, and we did not think we stood a chance, so we went on an hour boat trip instead. When we returned, the queue had disappeared, but we were told there was still room in the castle for a few more people, gibbons and sloths, so without hesitation, in we went.
We had to wait a while, but eventually, we were rewarded with a glimpse of the new King, who waved to the crowd before entering the castle to talk to important people. During the wait, we had our photo taken with the Royal Welsh Guards and a horse. We also saw soldiers marching and playing instruments, and a goat, who was not playing an instrument.
Normality briefly resumed on our return to London until 21st October, when I gained another little brother! Ollie the baby otter was rescued from eBay by my Human Dad after being inspired by The Little Book of Otter Philosophy by Jennifer McCartney. Ollie is very mischievous, although I am not sure he does anything naughty on purpose. He is very good at climbing up things, which is rather strange for an otter, but he has not learnt how to get back down again. If food goes missing, it is because Ollie has taken it, but to get it back, you have to find him first. Ollie is very good at hide and seek!
It is hard work being the older, responsible brother, which made me wonder how old I am. After careful calculations, we worked out I was born on 17th November 2007. Not only did this make me feel very grown up, it meant it was nearly my 15th birthday! This year, I had my very first birthday party. It was a surprise, and many friends came over to play games. I received a badge from one friend that said, “It’s my birthday,” and a set of clothes from another. I was a very lucky gibbon.
Sammy and Ollie frequently appear with me on my Instagram account. Both are much loved by my followers, although not as much as me, obviously. We have had lots of fun taking photos of each other, and we have also filmed the occasional video.
At the end of November, I went to a Christmas Tree Festival where I met the REAL Father Christmas. I told him I had been a very good gibbon and would be grateful if he visited me this year. I also let him know that all my friends and followers were good boys and girls. I hope you all receive something nice this year. Later, I received a letter from Father Christmas confirming that he will visit me! It says:
Dear Simeon, Things are really busy here at the North Pole, and Christmas is going to be here before we know it! I can’t wait! On Christmas Eve, I’m coming to your house in London first! Be sure you’re in bed and asleep with those big adorable eyes closed. Remember, I can’t deliver presents unless you’re fast asleep. By the way, all the elves wanted me to tell you they said, “Hello”. They also wanted me to share with you what they had for lunch today. They were so excited when I told them you liked bananas too! Mrs. Claus and I were talking about you last night at dinner and how proud we are of you for looking after your baby brother, Ollie. You should be proud of yourself! I know it can be hard sometimes, but remember to always use your manners and treat people the way you would want them to treat you! I have to remind the elves of that, too. Did you know that I have a list of all the boys and girls in the world? Well, it looks like you’ve been a very good boy! So you’re on the nice list again! Mrs. Claus and I just can’t get over the fact that you’re 15 years old already. I can hardly wait to see you and your brother, Sammy. I’m sorry to say, but I must be going now. One of the elves just came into my office and needs a helping hand in the workshop. Merry Christmas to you and your family! Take care, Santa
The year went from being the hottest on record to freezing cold in a matter of days. Fortunately, Sammy, Ollie and I have lots of fur to keep us warm. In mid-December, we woke up to discover the world had turned white with snow. It was very exciting! We were allowed to go outside and play, but we only lasted 8 minutes before we felt cold and damp. We decided it was safer to watch the snow through the window!
Now it is nearly Christmas day, and we are looking forward to spending it with Hazel and her family. We also hope there may be something for us under the Christmas tree too! If Hazel lets me, I will write again next year and perhaps go on a few more Treasure Trails. Until then, you are welcome to follow my adventures on Instagram at @theadventuresofsimeon. If you do not have Instagram, you can see my most recent photographs here.
Cut short in 2020 due to lockdown, Tate Britain’s exhibition Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League With The Nighthas returned to the gallery for a final three months after touring internationally. Open to the public until 26th February 2023, the exhibition showcases Yiadom-Boakye‘s cryptic portraits of fictitious people with poetic titles, which leave the viewer desperately trying to understand her intentions. Without explanatory labels, visitors are invited to interpret the paintings in relation to themselves and their circumstances. Yiadom-Boakye is both an artist and a writer who writes “about the things I can’t paint and paint the things I can’t write about.” The exhibition is the first to celebrate Yiadom-Boakye’s work in depth, spanning from her graduation from the Royal Academy Schools in 2003 until her recent work of 2020.
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye was born in 1977 in London to Ghanaian parents who moved to the UK to work for the NHS. She studied art at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design but disliked the teaching, so she transferred to Falmouth College of Art in Cornwall, where she graduated in 2000. Following this, she studied for a master’s degree at the Royal Academy Schools, which she achieved in 2003.
Okwui Enwezor (1963-2019), a Nigerian art critic, gave Yiadom-Boakye her big break by exhibiting her work at Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. The museum is devoted to artists of African descent. In 2013, Yiadom-Boakye received a nomination for the Turner Prize, along with Laure Prouvost, who won; Tino Sehgal; and David Shrigley. Yiadom-Boakye received the nomination for her portrait paintings of imaginary subjects at her first solo exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery, London.
In 2019, Yiadom-Boakye was featured on Powerlist’s top 100 influential people of African or African Caribbean heritage in the United Kingdom. The following year, she reached number 9 on the list, below the likes of the grime artist Stormzy and Jacky Wright, the vice president of Microsoft US. Although she earned the accolade for her artwork, Yiadom-Boakye describes herself as a writer of short stories and poems, yet she continues to excel at painting. In 2018, she became the first woman of colour awarded the Carnegie Prize for art.
Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings are predominantly figurative, featuring imaginary Black subjects in front of ambiguous backgrounds of monochromatic dark hues. She does not use models but often takes inspiration from scrapbooks and magazines or relies on her imagination. The figures tend to have contemplative facial expressions and relaxed postures, to which many viewers may relate. The more curious may wonder what the people are thinking, but no explanation is forthcoming.
In an interview, Yiadom-Boakye stated, “People ask me, ‘Who are they, where are they?’ What they should be asking is ‘what’ are they?” She deliberately makes her figures hard to place in time and location, giving them a sense of timelessness. The clothing rarely features anything cultural or time-specific, and Yiadom-Boakye prefers to paint her figures without shoes to avoid tying them to a particular era. By avoiding this, Yiadom-Boakye allows people to relate to the paintings regardless of their backgrounds.
Given Yiadom-Boakye’s Ghanaian ancestry, it is no surprise that she only paints Black figures. She had no ulterior motive for this, but when questioned, explained that she wants Black society to “exist unto itself” rather than in relation to White people and racial hardships. “I’ve never felt the need to explain its presence in the work any more than I’ve felt the need to explain my presence in the world.”
Rather than taking inspiration from other visual artists, Yiadom-Boakye turns to music and literature. Tate Britain includes several examples of literature and songs that have influenced Yiadom-Boakye, including Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Shakespeare’sHamlet, and The Picture of Dorian Gray and Salome by Oscar Wilde. Her favourite music artists include Prince, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, James Brown and John Coltrane.
Listening to jazz music inspires Yiadom-Boakye to improvise, as many musicians do, but to also follow a plan. Rather than painstakingly agonising over elements of a painting that is not going right, Yiadom-Boakye changes track and creates something new. Using her imagination rather than drawing from life allows her to alter things during the painting process. An image of two figures may become one, and an outdoor setting may be moved inside.
Authors and literature do not necessarily inspire Yiadom-Boakye’s visual artwork but influence her choice of titles. During an interview with American curator Antwaun Sargent, Yiadom-Boakye revealed, “There were certain references from literature that stuck with me, and made me think differently about language in relation to imagery. So the titles have never been descriptive; they’re never explanations of the paintings – they’re always another brush mark, a part of the painting, rather than a description of it.” While painting, a certain image, shade of colour, facial expression and so forth often triggers a remembered phrase or book title, which Yiadom-Boakye uses or adapts for the title.
The subtitle for the exhibition at Tate Britain also has no bearing on the artwork. Fly In League With The Night is a phrase from a poem by Yiadom-Boakye. It is quoted on the wall outside the entrance: At Ease As The Day Breaks Beside Its Erasure And At Pains To Temper The Light At Liberty Like The Owl When The Need Comes Knocking To Fly In League With The Night
Yiadom-Boakye prefers to focus on fictional people and settings because it gives her more control over the outcome. Art schools teach students to draw from life, but Yiadom-Boakye struggled to capture the essence of the models. Whilst paintings of her friends and family look accurate, they fail to reveal the individuals’ personalities. Using her imagination, Yiadom-Boakye is not under pressure to depict exact likenesses and personas. A relaxed figure may become pensive during the painting process, yet this does not ruin the portrait because there is no “right” way to portray imaginary people.
“Although they are not real I think of them as people known to me. They are imbued with a power of their own; they have a resonance – something emphatic and other-worldly. I admire them for their strength, their moral fibre. If they are pathetic, they don’t survive; if I feel sorry for someone, I get rid of them. I don’t like to paint victims.”
Photographs and magazines often inspire Yiadom-Boakye’s work, but she never paints from only one image. By keeping a scrapbook, Yiadom-Boakye combines elements in her artwork, almost like a collage, to create imaginary scenes. Whilst her figures are recognisably human, she does not paint famous faces or give away a person’s station in life. She wants Black people to exist without labels and without being compared to White people. Racial relations of the past, particularly in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, imply “you’re a goddess or a slave”, whereas most people are neither.
The way the paintings hang at an exhibition is another important factor of Yiadom-Boakye’s work. She worked with Tate Britain to decide where and how to display each image. Yiadom-Boakye paints with the canvas at eye level, so it makes sense to hang them at the same height. In some instances, the figures look directly at the viewer. In others, they peer at the painting next to them or across the room. Although each painting is an individual work of art, placing them next to or in the same room as other examples alters people’s interpretations.
Many of Yiadom-Boakye’s earlier works feature her signature dark colour palette, which evokes a sense of stillness. The plain backgrounds draw attention to the ahistorical fictional characters, who often appear alone on the canvas. In more recent works, Yiadom-Boakye has introduced more than one character into her imaginary scenes and has started to experiment with colour.
Speaking to The Guardian, Yiadom-Boakye said, “In the last few years, I’ve become obsessed with colour, too. My pictures used to be very dark, but now I’m putting in vivid reds and greens.” Yiadom-Boakye stuck to dark colours for so long because she felt confident in her ability to use them in her paintings. Introducing colour was initially a step out of her comfort zone, but now it is something she embraces.
Yiadom-Boakye has not hung her paintings chronologically, so each room has a mix of old and new artworks. Rather than separating the dark from the colourful styles, she encourages them to speak to each other through careful placing in the gallery. Instead of learning about the artist, visitors attend the exhibition to appreciate the paintings and Yiadom-Boakye’s artistic skills.
Although Yiadom-Boakye is a relatively new artist, she has inspired some artistic circles. In 2020, the Yale Center for British Art celebrated Women’s History Month, which featured a portrait of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye by the American artist Kehinde Wiley. Originally painted in 2017, the gallery installed it in place of a Thomas Gainsborough portrait of Lord Pulteney (1729-1805), who made his fortune in the Caribbean using slave labour. Wiley’s painting depicts Yiadom-Boakye in the guise of a rich, landowning, eighteenth-century white man. The artist aimed to subvert the norms of Western portraiture by placing Black figures in historical spaces.
Wiley’s painting differs from the way Yiadom-Boakye depicts Black figures. Rather than producing ahistorical portraits, he has deliberately placed Yiadom-Boakye in a time and place where it would have been impossible for a Black person to be a rich landowner. Wiley is drawing attention to the inequalities of the past and making people aware that the people depicted by famous artists of the past achieved their status by means that would be unacceptable in the 21st century.
Yiadom-Boakye, on the other hand, does not paint to make people question the past or draw attention to inequalities. She does not want to focus on how Black people were deemed different from White people. Instead, Yiadom-Boakye moves the attention away from racism and paints how she sees Black people: ordinary individuals.
Until 12th February 2023, the Royal Academy of Arts is exhibiting the work of seven female artists who achieved success between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. These women (Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter, Marianne Werefkin, Ottilie Reylaender, Erma Bossi and Jacoba van Heemskerck) worked during a time the role of women in society was under fierce public debate. Women’s suffrage movements were prevalent in many countries, but other communities, particularly in Germany, believed women should dedicate themselves to the three Ks: Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church).
The exhibition, Making Modernism, reveals women were excluded from art colleges, resulting in the establishment of “Ladies’ Academies” by the Association of Women Artists. Rural artists’ colonies also supported female artists, introducing them to Post-Impressionism and Expressionism. The seven artists included in the RA’s exhibition never joined a particular art movement, allowing them the freedom to develop their own style and create or break the rules, which many of their male counterparts could not do without upsetting or causing a stir among critics.
Set up by theme rather than artist, the exhibition explores the types of work the seven female artists produced: portraits, children, landscapes, still-life etc. Whilst this is useful in some respects, it is harder to appreciate each artist individually. So, this blog post is the first in a series that looks at each woman’s life and successes, giving them the full attention they deserve.
Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907)
“The intensity with which a subject is grasped – still lives, portraits, or pictures from one’s imagination – is the beauty of art.”
Recognised as the first known female painter to paint nude self-portraits and the first woman to have a museum devoted exclusively to her art (the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum), Paula Modersohn-Becker was a German Expressionist painter. During her relatively short life, she produced 700 paintings and over 1000 drawings.
Born Minna Hermine Paula Becker on 8th February 1876 in Dresden-Friedrichstadt, Modersohn-Becker was the third child of the university professor Carl Woldemar Becker (1841–1901) and Mathilde (1852–1926) of the aristocratic von Bültzingslöwen family. Her parents raised Paula and her six siblings in a cultured and intellectual environment, evidently having high hopes for their future. Unfortunately, the children’s prospects were limited after their uncle, Oskar Becker (1839-68), shot King Wilhelm of Prussia in the neck in a failed assassination attempt in 1861.
In 1888, the Becker family moved to Bremen, where they interacted with local artistic circles. Encouraged by this, Modersohn-Becker started learning to draw, saying, “At first, I shall only be drawing, beginning with very simple arabesques and other designs. If I progress, then I shall make charcoal sketches after Greek plaster casts … If I advanced further, I shall begin drawing and painting from live models.” After attending private art lessons in Bremen, Modersohn-Becker’s parents sent her to relatives in England in 1892 to help her learn English. While there, Modersohn-Becker attended St John’s Wood Art School in London.
Returning to Bremen in 1893, Modersohn-Becker and two sisters attended a teacher’s seminary per their father’s wishes. During her spare time, Modersohn-Becker received painting lessons from Bernhard Wiegandt, a local artist, and set up an art studio at her parents’ house. Although Modersohn-Becker passed her teaching course, it was evident that she had no intention of continuing down that career path. Instead, she travelled to Berlin in 1896 to participate in a six-week art course run by the Verein der Berliner Künstlerinnen.
After completing the art course, Modersohn-Becker chose to remain in Berlin, where she enrolled in the first-ever painting class held at the Women’s Academy. She eventually returned to Bremen in 1898 but convinced her parents to allow her to attend another art course, this time at the artists’ colony in Worpswede. The colony consisted of artists who rejected traditional styles of art taught at academies. Under Fritz Mackensen’s (1866-1953) tutelage, Modersohn-Becker produced landscapes, focusing on colours, tones and textures. Unfortunately, Modersohn-Becker often received criticism from her tutor, who complained she let herself “into the foreground too much” rather than copying directly from nature.
Modersohn-Becker exhibited two paintings with the Worpswede group in the Bremen Kunsthalle in 1899, but they were removed after the hysterical critic, Arthur Fitger, protested the inclusion of female artists. At the time, Modersohn-Becker believed Fitger hated her paintings, which did not completely conform with the colony’s romanticized traditions of landscape painting. After this incident, Modersohn-Becker chose to move to Paris, where attitudes towards art were less restricted than in Bremen.
Modersohn-Becker arrived in Paris in 1900 and began studying at the Académie Colarossi. She frequently visited museums, where she felt inspired by the colourful paintings of Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and members of Les Nabis, such as Pierre Bonnard and Félix Vallotton, who bridged the gap between Impressionism and Modernism. She noted these artists used simplistic or symbolic forms rather than true-to-life figures and natural colours. “Strive for the greatest simplicity by means of the most intimate observation.”
During Modersohn-Becker’s first year in Paris, the 1900 Paris Exposition celebrated the achievements of the past century by exhibiting the achievements and cultures of fifty-six countries. People travelled far and wide to attend the world fair, including artists from the Worpswede group. Modersohn-Becker knew one man, Otto Modersohn (1865-1943), from his occasional visits to the colony. Although he was married, the pair became close friends and met in Paris. Unfortunately, Modersohn’s trip to the city was cut short after receiving news that his wife, Helene, had passed away.
Despite her parent’s opposition, Modersohn-Becker followed Modersohn back to Worpswede, where they married in May 1901 after a short courtship. Modersohn-Becker wished to continue working as an artist but had to combine this with her responsibilities as a wife and a stepmother to Modersohn’s young daughter, Elsbeth. During the first couple of years of marriage, Modersohn-Becker managed to set up a studio on a nearby farm, where she completed several paintings of children. Some of these artworks, such as Girl in the Garden Next to a Glass Sphere (1901-2), may be portraits of her stepdaughter.
In 1903, Modersohn-Becker and her husband visited Paris for a couple of months. Modersohn-Becker used this time to visit art galleries and other artists, such as Auguste Rodin, Bonnard and Vallotton, who were starting to embrace Japanese styles. Modersohn-Becker returned to Paris alone in 1905, acknowledging that her husband did not find modern art appealing. She began taking drawing lessons at the Julian Academy but soon realised her style clashed with what the school taught.
After returning to Worpswede, Modersohn-Becker began to focus on still life, producing almost 50 scenes in two years. Some of her earlier paintings in this genre differ from her usual style. It is as though she attempted to copy the methods taught at the schools in Paris. Modersohn-Becker quickly rejected the realistic appearance in preference of bold colours and simplistic shapes. She also continued to paint portraits in this manner.
For most of 1906, Modersohn-Becker and her husband lived apart. Modersohn-Becker rented a studio on Avenue du Maine, Paris, near her friend Clara Westhoff, who was married to the writer Rainer Maria Rilke. Modersohn-Becker and Westhoff met at the colony in Worpswede and remained close friends. Modersohn-Becker was also good friends with Rilke, often writing to him from Worpswede. In February 1906, she wrote to Rilke about the difficulties she faced as a married artist. “And now, I don’t even know how I should sign my name, I’m not Modersohn and I’m not Paula Becker anymore either.”
Letters from Modersohn-Becker to her husband suggested she considered ending their marriage, asking him to “try to get used to the possibility of the thought that our lives can go separate ways”. During her separation from her husband, Modersohn-Becker accomplished some of her most distinctive works, including nude self-portraits, which were an atypical and shocking theme for a female artist. Critics label Modersohn-Becker’s nudes as unconventional because they express ambivalence toward the subject.
While in France, Modersohn-Becker declared in a letter to her sister, “I am becoming somebody – I’m living the most intensively happy period of my life.” Yet, she chose to return to her husband despite her yearning for independence. Modersohn-Becker’s journals and correspondence reveal she never stopped loving Modersohn but feared settling down and becoming a mother. She wanted to have a successful career by the age of 30 before thinking about having children.
Modersohn-Becker returned to Worpswede at the beginning of 1907. Now age 30, she felt able to settle down and start a family. During her pregnancy, Modersohn-Becker painted another nude self-portrait, making her the first known woman to paint herself nude, the first woman to paint herself pregnant, and the first woman to paint herself nude and pregnant. As far as art historians know, Modersohn-Becker never exhibited these paintings during her lifetime, perhaps out of fear of causing a scandal.
On 2nd November 1907, Modersohn-Becker gave birth to a girl, Mathilde (Tillie). Although overjoyed with her daughter, Modersohn-Becker felt unwell after the delivery, complaining of pains in her legs. The doctor prescribed a period of bed rest, as was the norm at that time. The doctor returned on 20th November to suggest she try to rise from her bed. Modersohn-Becker only managed to take a few steps before sitting down due to excruciating pain in her legs. She died shortly after asking for her daughter.
Today, physicians suspect Modersohn-Becker suffered from deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is common in women told to rest for a long time after giving birth. At the time, doctors did not understand the risk of blood clots due to long periods of inactivity. When Modersohn-Becker rose from her bed for the first time, she loosened a clot in her leg, which caused her death when it obstructed a vital organ.
After Modersohn-Becker’s funeral at the Worpswede Cemetery, Rilke wrote the poem Requiem for a Friend in her memory. “Oh you were far beyond all fame; were almost invisible; had withdrawn your beauty, softly, as one would lower a brightly coloured flag on the grey morning after a holiday. You had just one desire: a year’s long work — which was never finished; was somehow never finished.” Friends and artists held exhibitions of Modersohn-Becker’s work, which brought her the fame she never achieved while alive. Collectors started to buy her paintings, and ten years after her death held a large exhibition at the Kestnergesellschaft in Hanover and published a collection of her letters and journals.
In 1927, art patron Ludwig Roselius (1874-1943) opened the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum in Bremen, the first museum devoted to a female artist. It is situated in a purpose-built Brick Expressionist building, which became a listed building in 1973. The museum contains paintings from all periods of Modersohn-Becker’s life. In 1935, local Nazi members attacked some of the artwork and museum, and the following year, Adolf Hitler denounced Modersohn-Becker’s paintings as degenerate, stating they were “A revolting mixture of colours, of idiotic figures, of sick children, degenerates, the dregs of humanity.”
Seventy of Modersohn-Becker’s paintings were removed from museums and/or destroyed by the Nazi party. Fortunately, Modersohn-Becker was a prolific artist, so only a 10th of her artwork disappeared during this period. At least 50 paintings belonged to her daughter, Mathilde Modersohn, who donated them to the Paula Modersohn-Becker-Stiftung (Paula Modersohn-Becker Foundation), founded in 1978.
In 2007, Modersohn-Becker’s parent’s house in Bremen opened as a private museum and art gallery. The project, run by Heinz and Betty Thies, began in 2003 when they purchased and restored the run-down house. The museum opened in time to honour the 100th anniversary of Modersohn-Becker’s death.
Visitors to the Royal Academy exhibition may not have heard of Paula Modersohn-Becker, but she has inspired several artists and is remembered in her home country. One biographer suggests Modersohn-Becker’s artwork inspired a couple of paintings by Pablo Picasso. Whether or not this is true, she certainly held enough influence to become one of the women on the Deutsche Bundespost‘s series of Women in German History postage stamps. Her life is also immortalised in the 2016 German bio-pic film, Paula, and fictionalised in Sue Hubbard’s 2012 novel, Girl in White.
Francesca Wade, writing for the Royal Academy magazine, describes Modersohn-Becker as “harnessing her emotional turmoil to create forceful self-portraits and a series of remarkable paintings of women – pregnant, breastfeeding, ageing.” Nowadays, having seen the likes of Lucian Freud and Paula Rego, Modersohn-Becker’s paintings are not as shocking as they were at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, the uniqueness of Modersohn-Becker’s work gets lost in a sea of Modern, Post-Modern and contemporary art, but in her lifetime, she was something new and daring. Modersohn-Becker paved the way for female artists to paint what and how they liked, whether naked self-portraits, pregnancy, breastfeeding women, landscapes or portraits. Regardless of personal aesthetic preferences, Paula Modersohn-Becker is an artist that needs to be included in galleries and exhibitions because she is a turning point in the history of art in a misogynistic world.
Paula Modersohn-Becker is one of seven artists featured in Making Modenism at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The exhibition is open until 12th February 2023 and tickets cost up to £19. Concessions are available, including free entry for Friends of the RA.
Coggling Author: Jordan Elizabeth Published: 25th January 2016 Goodreads Rating: 4.08 out of 5 Reviewed: February 2016
Fifteen-year-old Edna spends her life looking after her brother Harrison whilst also working as a servant for a rich family. One day she is worried about Harrison’s uncharacteristic behaviour and is concerned to find him wearing a pocket watch that does not belong to him. Yet, when she snatches the watch away from him, he disintegrates into a pile of cogs. Panicked, Edna rushes out onto the streets in search of help, but naturally, no one believes her; no one but a thief, that is. Ike claims to recognize the watch as belonging to the hags – an evil, magical species – and says they must have stolen Harrison and replaced him with a cogling – an automaton changeling.
With Ike’s help, Edna is determined to rescue her brother, yet there are many incidents ahead for the pair to try and deter them. Not only that, Ike appears to have an ulterior motive for aiding her. Edna is also harbouring a deep secret.
Cogling is not based on a fairytale, yet it would not look out of place amongst the Grimm selection. It is full of adventure and magic, yet is darker than the stories told to children. When reading, I could not help but be reminded of Cornelia Funke’s Reckless on account of the similarities of strange creatures and settings – although that is where the comparisons end.
What I liked about Cogling is that it is a very modern fairytale in terms of its characters. Although set in a past where women were a lower caste than men, the heroine is not a helpless maid as in traditional tales. Edna and Ike are of equal ability and defeat the hags together, rather than Ike being the dashing prince rescuing the princess.
To begin with, Cogling felt like it was going to be fun to read but nothing special. The characters were a little annoying, but that added a slight humour. Then it got more interesting. As their lives became more dangerous, the story got much more exciting and hard to put down. The character developments were brilliant.
If you like fairytales, you will also love Cogling. Its steampunk approach makes it unique and fascinating.
In A Land of Paper Gods Author: Rebecca Mackenzie Published: 28th January 2016 Goodreads Rating: 3.47 out of 5 Reviewed: March 2016
“My name is Henrietta S. Robertson. That’s my English name… My Chinese name is Ming-Mei.”
As the child of two members of the Interior Alliance Mission, Henrietta has grown up between two cultures: English and Chinese. From the age of six, she was sent to boarding school on a mountain in the Jiangxi Province, where four years later, she remains a small, pale, lonely girl.
For a girl as young as ten, Etta has a big imagination. She decides that God has called her to be a prophetess and encourages the other girls in Dormitory A to join her in a Prophetess Club. This results in Etta getting into all sorts of trouble as she naively goes about inventing prophecies; all the while, the Second Sino-Japanese War gets closer and closer to their mountain sanctuary.
Told mostly from Etta’s point of view, In a Land of Paper Gods is a hilarious historical novel about a young girl’s innocence. A large part of the story is about the missionary school rather than the ongoing war, so the focus is on Etta’s interpretation of the Bible and her understanding of the differences between Western Christian and Chinese cultures. Yet, once America joins the war effort, it is shockingly quick how the tale can go from humorous to heartbreaking.
The other character who plays a large part in this novel is Muriel, a dorm aunty who Etta regards highly. Muriel wanted to be a missionary but found herself working at the Lushan school instead, keeping an eye on the ten and eleven-year-old girls. Although most of the book is written in Etta’s first-person narrative, Rebecca Mackenzie has also included the occasional diary entry from Aunty Muriel. Since these are so few, it is not clear what their purpose is, as the story could easily continue without them.
Despite being a historical novel, In a Land of Paper Gods focuses less on fact and more on the impact the times had on a young girl. It is interesting to see the character development of Etta as she goes from a naughty, attention-seeking schoolgirl to a young woman who must fend for herself. All the while, she has her belief in God to resort to for explanations about the world in which she is living. The reader also witnesses the growth of the relationship between Aunty Muriel and Etta. To begin with, it is that of an adult and child, but it ends with them being equals in their suffering.
For some people, the Christian content will not mean anything, but it is possible to enjoy the novel without a religious background. For those like myself, who have a Christian upbringing, this aspect makes the story even better. Readers may recognize themselves or their childhood in Etta, particularly her understanding of the Bible.
Gratitude Author: Dani DiPirro Published: 13th September 2016 Goodreads Rating: 4.06 out of 5 Reviewed: June 2016
“Effortless inspiration for a happier life.” It has been scientifically proven that gratitude can benefit mental and physical well-being. It is also acknowledged that being thankful is difficult for many people due to negative circumstances or pessimistic personalities. Gratitude is a little, hardback book by writer and graphic designer Dani DiPirro, whose purpose is to encourage the reader to show and feel more gratitude in their lives. In a way, this is a self-help book.
Using quotes, written insights and activities, DiPirro guides the reader through several situations in which one can be grateful. The author’s insights are sensitive but to the point, suggesting that everyone faces these problems and does not isolate individuals. The quotes help emphasise the ideas, and the activities are simple and relevant.
The activities are nothing to be afraid of; they are not strenuous or difficult. They merely require you to think or complete a task that does not require you to go out of your way: “Reflect on the last time you experienced compassion or forgiveness.”
The book itself is simple yet beautifully designed. The red theme makes it feel bright and positive, but it may be more attractive to women than it would be to men. The print is large, clear and easy to read, suitable for all ages and backgrounds.
Although roughly 130 pages, it only takes ten minutes to read from cover to cover, yet this is not the author’s intention. To get the most out of the book, each section/task should be tackled individually to experience the outcome you are hoping for: feeling a sense of gratitude. This is a book that you can return to time and time again, whether you feel motivated or need a little pick me up.
At the back of the book, DiPirro has provided lists of the top ten ways to be grateful in different environments. These are useful when you are experiencing problems at home or work and need help stepping back and seeing the bigger picture.
Overall, Gratitude is a lovely, inexpensive guide to help people gain a more positive outlook on life. Other books in this series focus on different areas of life that people struggle with, e.g. forgiveness and living in the moment. Gratitude is the ideal book to give as a gift to a loved one or even to keep on your bookshelf or bedside table, accessible when needed.
There Will Be Lies Author: Nick Lake Published: 6th January 2015 Goodreads Rating: 3.45 out of 5 Reviewed: June 2016
Award-winning Nick Lake has returned to the limelight with a young adult thriller so full of emotion that you will be gripped from beginning to end. There Will Be Lies starts with a happy relationship between mother and daughter, then rips it apart, revealing that everything you once believed is a lie.
From the very beginning, seventeen-year-old Shelby Jane Cooper warns the reader that bad things will happen. She speaks of death and a car collision that is about to occur within the first few chapters of the story. But this is not the climax of the story. It is merely the small stone dropped on the top of a mountain, causing an avalanche of questions, danger and the slowly unravelling truth.
All her life Shelby has been homeschooled, isolated from society and shadowed by her overprotective mother. After being hit by a car, resulting in a fractured foot, Shelby is ushered into a car by her mother and driven in the opposite direction from home. Supposedly an abusive father, a man Shelby cannot recall, is on their tail whom they must hide from to avoid a disastrous confrontation. Despite initially believing this story, peculiar things start happening to Shelby that suggest all is not as it seems.
The first quarter of There Will Be Lies follows a typical contemporary storyline, but as it becomes more thrilling, the author incorporates fantasy/American mythology into the mix. Finding herself slipping in and out of a dying, impossible world known as the Dreaming, Shelby begins to question the things her mother is telling her, especially after being warned that there will be two lies followed by a truth. Yet she cannot work out what they are, and what if the truth is something she cannot – does not want – to consider?
I loved this book from the very beginning. I loved Shelby’s character: the way she spoke, her sarcasm, her wit, and her intelligence. Despite being so sheltered from the world, she was not weird or awkward. What made it even better was discovering she was deaf. Readers will not even be able to guess at that for almost half the novel when Shelby reveals the fact herself. She is not portrayed as stupid or any less human for having a disability. Nick Lake has done a superb job of avoiding any forms of stigma or prejudice.
The fantastical elements, the American mythology, which gave it the appearance of a half fairytale, nearly ruined the entire book. I admit I liked the concept and enjoyed reading the scenes set in the Dreaming, but it seemed so out of place with the rest of the novel, as though Lake had written two different stories and decided to combine them instead of publishing them separately.
As the story progressed, the relevance of the fairy-tale-like elements became clearer. You cannot say whether the Dreaming was real or whether Shelby was merely doing that: dreaming. The mythological storyline is a metaphorical way of revealing what Shelby was dealing with in the real world. In a place where she was confused about what was true, she needed the Dreaming to explain things to her, to make her understand her predicament.
There Will Be Lies is full of little metaphors, some that you do not notice at first but easily apply to life in general. It is a quotable narrative with beautiful phrasing. With two thrilling storylines that eventually merge, you are guaranteed to be gripped, wanting to know what happens, yet also not wanting it to end.
Think Adrian Plass but with octogenarians, and this is the result. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old is a years-long journal beginning on 1st January 2013. Hendrik hates old people, an unfortunate predicament as he lives in a home for the elderly. He set himself the task of writing a daily account about the “life of the inmates of a care home in North Amsterdam,” with the purpose of it being read after his death by readers or “inmates” who wish to know what to expect in their old age.
Whether the contents of this diary are true or exaggerated does not matter, as what it produces is a laugh-out-loud story – a pleasure to read. From cake in the fish tank to complaints about leaky nether regions, Hendrik provides a brutally honest account of the highs and lows of being an OAP.
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old encompasses a selection of unique and presumably real characters. Readers are bound to discover someone who reminds them of an elderly relative or even themselves! There is the diabetic, rude, gin-loving Evert – Henrdik’s best friend of many years – who is never without a witty comeback for the bossy, self-important director of the home. On the other hand, levelheaded Eefje, who Hendrik is rather fond of, shows a completely different view of elderly mentality. Despite the stereotypes associated with care home patients, Hendrik and his friends still have as much fun as possible; after all, they may be Old but not Dead.
Speaking of Dead, Hendrik makes several jokes and references to euthanasia, which may seem like poor taste to some readers. Yet, when all the friends around you are living the final years of their lives, why not joke about it instead of worry? Naturally, there are sad diary entries about the inevitable deaths of his contemporaries throughout the year, but Hendrik does not let it get him down for long. Hendrik and his close friends make the most of the time they have left, and if that involves speeding along the roads of Amsterdam on their souped-up mobility scooters, then that is exactly what they will do.
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old is a gem of a book and comes highly recommended to readers of all ages. Hendrik‘s effortlessly funny, sarcastic remarks stress what the average citizen is too polite to voice. Once you begin, it is hard to put down. Unfortunately, a year is not long enough, and you will end up wanting more. Whatever the future holds, let us hope we become someone like Hendrik Groen.