Paula Modersohn-Becker holds a camellia branch in this serene self portrait — a symbol of the eternal cycle of blooming and withering, life and death. Her gentle expression and enlarged eyes mirror the coptic saints, and hint at her interest in the antique mummy portraits she'd seen during visits to the Louvre.
On July 26th, 1900, Becker noted in her diary, “I know that I won’t live very long. But is that sad? Is a festival better because it’s longer? And my life is a festival, a short, intensive festival.”
This was Becker’s last painting, painted during a trip to Paris. She died seven months later of an embolism, and here, at least, she seems at peace.
Reed Enger, "Self-portrait with a camellia branch," in Obelisk Art History, Published January 22, 2016; last modified May 19, 2021, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/paula-modersohn-becker/self-portrait-with-a-camellia-branch/.