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Open Access Research

Paula Modersohn-Becker, the challenges of pregnancy and the weight of tradition

Giorgina B Piccoli1* and Scott L Karakas2

Author Affiliations

1 SS Nephrology, Department of Clinical and Biological Sciences, University of Torino, TO, Italy

2 Office of Curriculum and Instruction, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, FL, USA

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Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2011, 6:11  doi:10.1186/1747-5341-6-11

Published: 6 June 2011


Paula Modersohn-Becker, widely considered to have been one of the most important independent Expressionist painters of the early twentieth century, was thirty-one years old when she gave birth to her first child. Following the then-common practice of putting women to bed rest for two-four weeks after delivery, she died of massive pulmonary embolism when she was first allowed to stand, eighteen days after giving birth. Paula had foreseen her death at a young age and was apprehensive about her pregnancy, yet she painted herself as pregnant in her best known self-portrait, thus underlining the importance of the pregnancy in her life. In the light of knowledge available at the time, the authors present a brief discussion of the life and death of Paula Modersohn-Becker as a reflection on the potential dangers of blindly following conventional wisdom in the medical profession.