Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

The flat terrain, birch trees, and dramatic wide-open skies depicted in these works (2003.4 and 2000.264) are characteristic of Worpswede, a small peasant village near Bremen in northern Germany. It was there in an artist’s colony that Modersohn-Becker, inspired by the region’s rural inhabitants and the simplicity of its landscape, developed her signature “naive” style. Following the teachings at the colony, she applied paint swiftly and directly to the support. With the central position of the birch tree in the scene, she also disrupted a more conventional, picturesque view, while still creating a sense of depth in the small landscape. Girl in a Red Dress (2000.264) derives the strength of its subject from reduced color and simplified forms. Modersohn-Becker’s style, in particular her thickly painted brushstrokes, shows the influence of postimpressionist painters such as Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh, whose work she saw during several extended visits to Paris beginning in 1900. In her short career, Modersohn-Becker’s early pursuit of formal simplification and the sensitivity of her themes made her one of the foremost expressionist painters in Germany.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Paula Modersohn-Becker, German (Dresden, Germany 1876 - 1907 Worpswede, Germany)
Girl in a Red Dress
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Kind in Rotem Kleid am Birkenstamm; Bauernkind im Roten Kleid
Work Type
c. 1905
Persistent Link
Level 1, Room 1440, Modern and Contemporary Art, Secessionism: Munich, Vienna, Berlin
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Emulsion (probably oil, tempera, and wax) on composite board
70.5 x 56.3 cm (27 3/4 x 22 3/16 in.)
framed: 77.6 x 63.7 x 4.6 cm (30 9/16 x 25 1/16 x 1 13/16 in.)
Dr. Auguste Hirsch-Lotz, Berlin, c. 1919. [Kunsthandel Dr. Hans Fetscherin, Salzburg and Munich, 1956]. Hans Helmut Kirst, Bremen, (1957-1989?). [Galerie Brockstedt, Hamburg, 1996]. [Galerie Michael Haas, Berlin]. Erich K. von Baumbach and Hubertus and Christian von Baumbach, gift; to Busch-Reisinger Museum, 2000.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Erich K. von Baumbach and Hubertus and Christina von Baumbach in honor of Hubertus Liebrecht
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art
The Harvard Art Museums encourage the use of images found on this website for personal, noncommercial use, including educational and scholarly purposes. To request a higher resolution file of this image, please submit an online request.
According to early references and the recent catalogue raisonne (see below), at some point after 1919, probably in the 1920s, the card support of this painting was split, removing a second painting (now unlocated) that had been on the verso, and then mounted on a new backing card. There are traces of an old label, barely illegible inscriptions (perhaps a return address and an alternative title "Kind zwischen Bäumen" [Child Between Trees] and an unidentified stamp (the number 11 or letter N over 66 [or 99 over 11/N in a circle) now on the verso.
The image of the child in and of nature is entirely typical for the artist, but this example avoids sentimentality in its depiction of the young girl rooted in the earth but achieving a monumental expressivity. Modersohn-Becker lies at the roots of modernism in Germany. Her independent creative path offered a model for expressionist individuality (as did her themes of unspoiled, "primitive" nature), while her openness to advanced art from France (which she visited several times) was an important counterbalance to the currents of artistic chauvinism. Not only a cogent, persuasive comosition in its own right, this painting has evoked associations ranging from P.O. Runge (for the iconography of the massive child) to Joseph Beuys (for the ruddy brown palette).
Publication History

Günter Busch, Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1876-1907: Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde im Auftrag der Paula Modersohn-Becker-Stiftung, Hirmer Verlag (Munich, Germany, 1998), #595, repr. p. 415

Peter Nisbet and Joseph Koerner, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, ed. Peter Nisbet, Harvard University Art Museums and Scala Publishers Ltd. (Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2007), p. 189

Exhibition History

32Q: 1440 Secessionism: Munich, Vienna, Berlin (Expressionism), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at