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Year 8 - Expressionism: Otto Dix (1891-1969)

Last updated October 2018.

Service in war and teaching

Otto Dix was a German artist, painter, print maker and watercolorist. His depictions of mechanized warfare and post-war Berlin continue to shape our impressions of the Great War and Weimar society. Along with George Grosz, Dix was one of the more important figures in New Objectivity. While Grosz delved into the shadows of modern society, Dix stared into the abyss. 


Biography - Otto Dix

 Wilhelm Heinrich Otto Dix was born to Franz and Pauline Dix on December 2, 1891. His father was a mold maker in an iron foundry, and Dix inherited his strength of character and steel-blue eyes. From his mother, a seamstress, he received a love of music and poetry.

 Dix is most remembered for the portraits he produced during the years of the Weimar Republic, pictures that have contributed to the enduring popular image of that famously decadent time in German history. 

Otto Dix in the war

Dix volunteered for WWI welcoming the war as a sign that the Old Order was soon over and a New Age was on the horizon. He fought on the front line and saw service in Champagne and in the trenches of Artois where he fought in two major battles.

Otto Dix painting of Sylvia von Harden - an analysis

Otto Dix

"Art is exorcism. I paint dreams and visions too; the dreams and visions of my time. Painting is the effort to produce order; order in yourself. There is much chaos in me, much chaos in our time."

Early life

image source : 
In December 1891 Otto Dix was born into the Generation of 1914. He was one of millions of late 19th Century babies who ushered in the 20th on the battlefields of the First World War. Dix was the eldest son of Franz and Louise. His father toiled in a iron foundry and his mother was a seamstress. 

MoMA collection

(click this image to access MoMA webpage on Otto Dix)

Key Ideas

Otto Dix is one of modern painting's most savage satirists. After many artists had abandoned portraiture for abstraction in the 1910s, Dix returned to the genre and injected sharp caricatures into his depictions of some of the leading lights of German society. His other narrative subjects are remembered for their indictment of corrupt and immoral life in the modern city.
Otto Dix was initially drawn to Expressionism and Dada, but like many of his generation in Germany in the 1920s, he was inspired by trends in Italy and France to embrace a cold, linear style of drawing and more realistic imagery. Later, his approach became more fantastic and symbolic, and he began to depict nudes as witches or personifications of melancholy.
Dix always balanced his inclination toward realism with an equal tendency toward the fantastic and the allegorical. For example, his images of prostitutes and injured war veterans serve as emblems of a society damaged both physically and morally.
Although Dix's work is often noted for its sharp-eyed depiction of the human figure, his early fixation with crippled veterans and his resort to caricature suggest that he was uncomfortable with celebrating the human body - and the triumphant human spirit - in his painting (source)

His work

Dix was a veteran of the First World War. He was haunted by the brutality of mechanized warfare long after the guns fell silent. Through his art, he returns to the desolated landscape of military trenches strewn with mutilated bodies. The dead are distorted by decomposition. Human characteristics are indistinguishable in gas masks and steel helmets.

Otto Dix web resources