REVIEW: Making Modernism, Royal Academy of Arts

This exhibition highlights the work of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Kӓthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin.

Marianne von Werefkin, ‘Zirkus (vor der Vorstellung)’, 1910. | Photograph: Peter Hinschläger

First of all, it has to be said the Royal Academy of Arts have selected some really lovely pieces of work to be displayed as part of this exhibition from these four artists. But while it offers a tantalising hint at the subject behind the exhibition, it feels as though it doesn’t go into enough depth, leaving visitors with more questions than answers.

On the other side of this, what Making Modernism does do is celebrate the work of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Kӓthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin as they attempted to balance between being wives, mothers and artists – while not being taken seriously for their work. There is certainly a tinge of sadness that exists throughout this exhibition which makes you look at each work even closer.

From portraits, to still life as well as more intimate paintings, you get a sense of each woman’s perspective on each subject, highlighting their unique thoughts. The portraits on display are filled with intensity that draw you in – particularly Kӓthe Kollwitz’s self-portrait which is filled with confidence and is striking, immediately catching the eye. Meanwhile, the different approaches in the way Kӓthe Kollwitz and Paula Modersohn-Becker each approach children and motherhood is filled with sadness and love – with Kollowitz’s images of mother’s holding children who have died proving to be powerful and well created.

But throughout it all, you can really see how each artist’s style developed and changed with the times, that by the time that you get to the paintings created in the countryside, filled with colour and life it is hard to believe that it is all the same artists. Werefkin and Münter’s work  particularly standing out in this regard.

While some of the works look a bit hurried, it is never forgotten that they never attended academies to really hone in their skills – and yet somehow in a way this perhaps a good thing, as there is a rawness to their work that is compelling to look at. This exhibition certainly reveals that each of these artists deserved more attention for their work, with many of the cleverly selected pieces showing them at their best.

Yes, it would be fair to say that Making Modernism seems to forget what it was supposed to be about – losing the intent behind the title of the exhibition that doesn’t put forward enough of a strong argument of their involvement and influence on Modernism as a whole. But what it does do is show how these artists challenged femininity and used it through their somewhat overlooked work.

By Emma Clarendon

Making Modernism is on display at the Royal Academy of Arts until the 12th February.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

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