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A landscape painting with a birch tree.

The painting show a birch tree in the center, it rises in two trunks from a brown and green foreground to the top of the picture plane. The left trunk shows a branch extending from it to cross the space between the two. The tree is crowned with red, green, and orange leaves. A smaller tree with a white trunk and leaves is behind and to the left. The background is lighter green becoming darker green towards the back and ends with a line of dark trees against a blue sky with thin white clouds.

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)
Birch Tree in a Landscape
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Zweistämmige Birke vor Landschaft
Work Type
Persistent Link


Level 1, Room 1440, Modern and Contemporary Art, Secessionism: Munich, Vienna, Berlin
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on composite board
55.4 x 42.1 cm (21 13/16 x 16 9/16 in.)
framed: 64.6 x 51.4 x 3 cm (25 7/16 x 20 1/4 x 1 3/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: recto, l.l., graphite: 1899
  • label: verso, l.r., ink, handwritten: 31 [above horizontal line] /49090 [below horizontal line]
  • inscription: verso, u.r., beneath backing board, graphite, German: Paula Modersohn-Becker / bestätigt / Otto Modersohn


Recorded Ownership History
Private collection, Bremen, 1930s. [Neumeisters Moderne, Munich, 16 May 2002, lot 636], sold. Busch-Reisinger Museum, 2003.

Note: Neumeisters Moderne (May 16, 2002) catalogue, lot 636, repr. col. p. 149.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Wilhelm Winterstein through the Acquisitions Committee of the Friends of the Busch-Reisinger Museum in honor of James Cuno on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Museum
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art

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Publication History

  • Günter Busch, Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1876-1907: Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde im Auftrag der Paula Modersohn-Becker-Stiftung, Hirmer Verlag (Munich, Germany, 1998), #30, repr. p. 41
  • 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. 188

Exhibition History

  • Before Expressionism: Art in Germany circa 1903, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/24/2003 - 02/15/2004
  • Re-View: S118 European & American Art since 1900, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 09/13/2008 - 04/09/2011
  • 32Q: 1440 Secessionism: Munich, Vienna, Berlin (Expressionism), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project
  • Collection Highlights

Verification Level

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