Friday, 27 November 2015

Art of the First World War: Otto Dix

Otto Dix (1891-1969) was one of the great artists of the early 20th century, renowned for his harsh modernist, yet realistic depictions of the First World War and postwar German society under the Weimar Republic.

Dix volunteered for military service when war broke out in 1914. An enthusiastic soldier at first, he painted himself as a ferocious "Nietzschean Warrior."

As time went by Dix's enthusiasm for the war dimmed and was replaced by a sense of abject horror, reflected in his "Self-Portrait as Target," with the buttons on his hat reminiscent of the bullseye on a paper target.

Dix's war paintings are among the most ghastly and ghostly done by any artist, reminiscent of Goya's paintings of the Spanish war of liberation against Napoleonic France. One example is the apocalyptic "War." This is part of a larger triptych.

Two versions of "The Wounded Soldier" convey the haunting madness and futility of the war, as does the memento mori "The Skull."

Dix's postwar paintings of Weimar German society often emphasized the horrendous price paid by the nation's military personnel, as in "War Cripples.".

Dix juxtaposed those who had done well out the war and those who endured untold suffering in woks like "Prague Street" with the woman rushing past cripples and its hints of a rising antisemitism.

The triptych "Metropolis" features contrast the suffering of the veterans with the degenerate revelry of  the wealthy, uncaring bourgeoisie.

The Nazis hated Dix's paintings as counter-productive to their militaristic and nationalistic goals. They destroyed many of them after exhibiting them in an exhibition called "Degenerate Art."

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