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Clara Rilke-Westhoff, geb. Westhoff

(b. 21 November 1878 in Bremen; d. 9 March 1954 in Fischerhude)

Clara Rilke-Westhoff is considered a pioneer of feminine sculpture in Germany. She studied with the great masters of her time and travelled around Europe for many years. In addition to her sculptures, she left behind an equally extensive painting oeuvre. She nevertheless all but fell into oblivion after her death, being mentioned only as the wife of Rainer Maria Rilke and friend to Paula Modersohn-Becker.

Clara Westhoff moved to the Worpswede artists’ colony at around the turn of the century to receive instruction in painting and drawing. Beginning in 1899 – after her teacher Fritz Mackensen had recognized her talent and encouraged her to take up sculpture – she studied with Max Klinger and Carl Seffner in Leipzig, and subsequently at the École des Beaux Arts and with Rodin in Paris. She returned to Worpswede in 1900.

Her marriage to the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) in 1901 and the birth of her daughter led to repeated interruptions of her artistic work as well as crises in connection with financial worries. During their many years of wandering from 1902 onwards, the “unlikely couple” encountered many interesting notables and the sculptress received frequent commissions for portrait busts of famous contemporaries. She had already executed a plaster portrait of the painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907) in 1899, impressively capturing the artist’s personality. Since the hundredth anniversary of Paula Modersohn-Becker’s death, a cast of that sculpture has been on display near the Kunsthalle in the Bremen Wallanlage green belt. Modersohn-Becker returned the favour by painting the Bust of the Sculptress Clara Rilke-Westhoff, now in the Hamburger Kunsthalle, in 1905.

Source: Bremer Frauenmuseum e.V.