Otto Dix: 1891 - 1969
By Lori Stranger
Born on 2 December 1891, the German painter and printmaker Otto Dix was a leading exponent of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) Movement. His harsh depictions of the World War One and criticism of the Weimar Republic illustrate his importance as a leading critic of the war in the arts.
Exposed to art from an early age, his painter, cousin, Fritz Amann encouraged Dix to pursue his natural artistic talent. In 1910, Dix entered the Kunstgewerbe school in Dresden, now known as the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, which encouraged a more classical artistic style.
The outbreak of the war in 1914 would drastically affect Dix’s artistic career. Originally assigned to an artillery unit in Dresden, in 1915 Dix was transferred to a machine gun unit where he personal witnessed the brutal deaths and casualties of the trenches; for example at the 1916 Battle of the Somme. Severely wounded in August 1918, Dix was eventually discharged later that year. The traumatic experiences of the war can be seen in Dix’s outpouring of visceral art in the preceding post-war years. In 1924, he published a series of 50 etchings titled, Der Kieg (The War), depicting the horrors of war and its victims. The grotesque elongated forms of soldiers and harsh etched lines neither glorifies war nor heroises the soldiers, but illustrates the harsh reality of soldiers’ experiences.
In the 1920s Dix became an exponent of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) Movement, whose other founding members, George Grosz and Max Beckmann, adopted a post-war resignation and cynicism tone to their works. Dix juxtaposed the decadence of post-war Weimar republic with traumatised soldiers’ returning home offering a critique of modern life in an intensely realistic manner. His notable triptych 1928, The Metropolis, depicts three scenes of urban life, contrasting the struggles of crippled veterans within a leisure society complete with prostitutes and ballroom soirees.
The Berlin Dadaists’, such as Grosz and Heartfield can be seen to have heavily influenced Dix’s style in his adoption of cartoonish, elongated figures and parody. The 1920 Memory of the Mirrored Halls of Brussels depicts a ‘memory’ of the war in which a red-faced drunken general is accompanied by a naked blonde prostitute. The Crystal-palace Brussels cafe setting ran as a brothel during the war. Famous for its mirrored rooms, Dix employs the nightmarish mirrors to expose the subject’s interaction from all angles, as well as perhaps parodying cubism’s fragmentary quality.
By 1926, Dix’s reputation had grown to the extent that he received a professorship at the Kunstakademie, in Dresden, which he maintained until the rise of the Nazis in 1933. The Nazi regime’s preference for conservatism and classical art appeared in stark contrast to Dix’s critical parodies and brutal exposes of German life. Dix’s art was labelled as ‘degenerate’ and he was barred from exhibiting. In 1937, eight of Dix’s works were displayed in the Degenerate Art Museum in Munich as inferior art to the concurrent Great German Art Exhibition. The German’s confiscated 260 of Dix’s artworks, most of which was either destroyed or lost. In 1939, the Gestapo arrested Dix on charges of complicity to assassinate Hitler, however by 1945, Dix was acquitted of the charges and drafted to the Home Guard, serving in the Volkssturm. He was later imprisoned by the French at Colmar spending the rest of the war in a Prisoner of War Camp.
In 1948 his interests turned to lithography as his style softened, turning to a more religious mysticism, as can be seen in his Saul and David (1945) and Crucifixion (1946). These works stand in stark contrast to his early radical exposes of modern society.
Otto Dix died of a stroke on July 25th 1969.
“Otto Dix”, Britannica, accessed 25th November 2018.
“Otto Dix”, The Art Story, accessed 25th November 2018.
“Otto Dix”, Encyclopedia, accessed 25th November 2018.