Artist of the Week: Otto Dix

Otto Dix, the great German Expressionist, was famous for his unique and grotesque style. Although Hitler's Nazi regime destroyed many of Otto Dix's works, the majority of his paintings can still be seen in museums throughout Germany. Noted for his ruthless and harshly realistic depictions of Weimar society and of the brutality of war, Otto Dix, along with George Grosz, is widely considered one of the most important artists of the Neue Sachlichkeit. Otto Dix lived through Germany’s most turbulent and exciting times of the early twentieth century and depicted the harsh realities of these times in his work. Some of his most famous work originated from his World War I experiences. Dix concentrated on portraying the energy and spectacle of war and only represented the true horrors of war in the post-war years, when he returned to Dresden. Otto Dix, the son of Franz Dix and Louise Amann, was born in Unternhaus, Germany, in 1891. After attending elementary school he worked locally until 1910 when he became a student at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts. To help fund his education, Otto Dix accepted commissions and painted portraits of local people. When the First World War erupted, Otto Dix enthusiastically volunteered for the German Army. He was taken to a field artillery regiment in Dresden. In the fall of 1915 he was assigned as a non-commissioned officer of a machine-gun unit in the Western front and took part of the Battle of the Somme. Otto Dix was seriously wounded several times. In 1917, his unit was transferred to the Eastern front until the end of hostilities with Russia. Back in the western front, Otto Dix fought in the German Spring offensive. Otto Dix earned the Iron Cross and reached the rank of vice-sergeant-major. Dix was profoundly affected by the sights of the war. Otto Dix would later tell about his recurring nightmare where he was crawling through destroyed houses. He produced a series of drawings and prints that reflected that traumatic period, including "Stormtroops Advancing Under Gas" shown above. After the war, in Dresden, Otto Dix co-founded a secession called "Gruppe 19" and later "Young Rhineland." During the 20's and 30's, Otto Dix dabbled in Dada and a movement he started himself called "Neue Sachlichkeit" (new objectivity). Otto Dix' paintings became his expression of the bleaker side of life, especially war. Otto Dix used realistic pictures of disfigured soldiers as his model. Like the work of his friend and fellow veteran George Grosz, Dix's material was extremely critical of contemporary German society and often dwelled on the act of Lustmord, or sexual murder. As well as grotesquely and starkly depicting the realities of post-war German society, Otto Dix also began working with portraiture, which as his career developed, became famous for its “evil eye” as he always emphasized the weaknesses and worse characteristics of his sitters from whatever class of society they came from, friends or strangers. Art Dealer Karl Nierendorf convinced Dix to move to Berlin in 1925 and this period of just over a year, during Germany’s “Golden Twenties”, was a fascinating era in his career. Here Otto Dix produced his finest and most mature portraits and had his first one-man exhibition. After the excitement of metropolitan Berlin, Dix returned to Dresden in 1927 to teach at Dresden Academy as well as building a family. Otto Dix began to enjoy a very happy time in his life, which became noticeable in some of his work. In his six years at the Academy Otto Dix completed two more masterpieces; ‘Metropolis’ (shown above) and ‘War’, which are described as “a summation of all his ideas on the two main themes of his work: sex and war (death).” Emulating the triptych style of the middle ages, Dix began painting his own triptychs. In "Metropolis" Dix paints himself in the left-hand panel as a crippled soldier returning from the trenches. In the center, healthy patrons of a nightclub dance the night away, blithely unaware of the physical and psychological cost paid by men such as Dix. The decadence of the Weimar Republic days glares like neon in these images, especially in the right-hand panel, where a series of modishly clad women file past without a second glance a legless veteran begging for help. In 1933 Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. Hitler and his Nazi government disliked Dix's anti-military paintings and arranged for him to be sacked from his post as art tutor at the Dresden Academy. Dix's dismissal letter said that his work "threatened to sap the will of the German people to defend themselves". Dix left Dresden and went to live near Lake Constance in the south-west of Germany. Soon afterwards, two of Dix's paintings, The Trench and War Cripples, appeared in an Nazi exhibition to discredit modern art. The show called Reflections of Decadence was held in Dresden Town Hall. Later, several of Dix's anti-war paintings were destroyed by the Nazi authorities in Germany. The Nazis actually arrested Otto Dix in 1939, charging him with plotting to kill Hitler, but released him later. At the end of World War II, as the Nazis conscripted every warm body into their failing war effort, they forced Dix to fight again for Germany. After the war, Otto Dix returned to his native Dresden, which had been ravaged by the infamous firebombing. Unlike his World War One paintings which aimed to depict the realities of war, his paintings during World War Two attempted to redeem those horrific times through religion. By that point, even Dix was unable to accept and confront the true sadness and horror of war. After the war, Dix’s work still suffered as he was divided between two Germanys with opposing ideologies, meaning he was never able to commit to any style. At the end of his life Otto Dix continued painting religious allegories, landscapes and of course portraits, but many say his work had lost the accuracy and “tautness” Otto Dix brought the truth about war out of the trenches and into the light of day, thrusting it before the eyes of an ignorant world that refused and still refuses to see.


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