"Tille im Wohnzimmer (Das unartige Kind) (Tille in the Living Room (The Naughty Child))", 1913
Oil on canvas
20.47 x 19.69 in / framed 27.56 x 26.77 in
52 x 50 cm / gerahmt 70 x 68 cm
Painted on both sides, verso "Daffodils", 1938
Unmarked on front, signed and dated verso "O Modersohn 38"
Separate expertise for each side
by Rainer Noeres, October 5, 2015,
Otto Modersohn Museum, Fischerhude
- with craftsman's frame -
Frame allows both sides to be seen.
Über das Werk
Although paintings of his second wife Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876 / †1907) and daughter Elsbeth (∗1898 / †1984) from his first marriage during his Worpsweder years do exist, Otto Modersohn produced many more family portraits during his time spent in Fischerhuder from 1908 to 1925 together with his third wife Louise Modersohn-Breling, his daughters Elsbeth und Mathilde (1907 / †1998) and the sons from his third marriage, Ulrich (∗1913 / †1943) and Christian (∗1916 / †2009).
"The Naughty Child" is one such work. The child in question is Mathilde Modersohn, nicknamed Tille, Otto Modersohn's daughter from his marriage to Paula Modersohn-Becker from 1901-1907. Tille spent the first four years of her life in Basel, under the guardianship of Paula Modersohn-Becker's elder sister, Milly Rohland-Becker, who also gave birth to a daughter in 1907, and thus was able to act as Tille's wet-nurse in the first few months of her life. After the traumatic loss of his first two wives, Otto Modersohn saw little reason to remain in Worpsweder, and in 1908 he moved to Fischerhude to start anew.
His third wife Louise Breling was the second and eldest daughter of the painter Heinrich Breling and a trained opera singer. In the spring of 1911, the married couple decided to assume guardianship of Mathilde. One can only surmise how it must have felt for a four-year-old child to be confronted with two virtual strangers claiming to be her real parents, and whom she would henceforth be required to address as mother and father. It was doubtless traumatic for her after the previous happy years of living under one roof within an in tact family. She felt alienated and abandoned.
Equally, Otto Modersohn and his new wife must have lacked the tender intimacy which one can only develop towards one own child in its formative years. And Tille may well have sensed this. She was a difficult child who only wanted to return to her mother in Basel. Accordingly, Louise Modersohn-Breling was cast into the unwanted role of "evil stepmother", and could do nothing to gain the affections of her step-daughter.Fortunately, however, she also had Elsbeth as company, Otto Modersohn's daughter from his first marriage to Helene Schröder, a side of the family which was to remain foreign to young Tille; her soul sister lived in Basel and was called Jane.Elsbeth was also deeply affected by the loss of her mother - for this is how she perceived Paula Modersohn-Becker - and in addition felt pushed aside by her new sister, who, as the daughter of the great painter, now claimed the limelight. Particularly as hitherto it was she who had been the centre of attention by virtue of her immortalisation in Paula's paintings. Nonetheless, the girls often colluded to cause mischief for the new woman at their father's side. This present painting may indeed have been a consequence of their mischief-making against their step-mother. The stage for this scene was the living room of the Modersohn's house in Fischerhuder, "Im Pool", which stood at the eastern entrance to the village until it burned down in 1931.
The backlit girl is seated on a wooden bench manufactured by the company Heinrich Vogeler. Her face is shrouded in shadow. She is not sitting in the middle, but slightly to the left. Behind her is the blue wall framing the window which looks out onto the local farm labourers' cottages; on the window sill are four flower pots with azaleas and geraniums. In front of the girls is the round table with the lion's feet, which Modersohn - together with Paula Modersohn-Becker - acquired from an antiques dealer during one of their visits to his parents in Münster, from whom they also purchased the Danish grandfather clock to the left in the picture. Conspicuous are the red table cloth, decorated with floral elements, on which is standing a fruit bowl, and the yellow toss pillow, draped over the arm rest.
This interior is one of Modersohn's most colourful paintings of this period, executed with equal red, blue and yellow content, although this is not the sole reason it commands such a special place among Otto Modersohn's oeuvre. It was only in Worpswede that he had previously painted a detail of his house; the "View of the Interior of the House in Worpsweder" from 1903.