Otto Dix
Biography of German Expressionist Painter: Neue Sachlichkeit Group.

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Portrait Of The Journalist Sylvia
Von Harden (1926)
National Museum of Modern Art,
Pompidou Centre, Paris.

Otto Dix (1891-1969)


Early Life
World War I: Effect on Dix's Art
Die Neue Sachlichkeit Expressionist Group
Degenerate Art
World War II and Aftermath

The Salon (1921)
Kunstmuseum, Stuttgart.
For other German expressionist works
similar to those by Otto Dix, see:
Greatest 20th-Century Paintings.

For an explanation of the
terminology, see:
Art: Definition and Meaning.


The German painter and printmaker Wilhelm Heinrich Otto Dix was one of the greatest and most powerful representatives of the post-war satirical style of German Expressionism, which flourished during the 1920s in Berlin, Dresden, Mannheim and other major cities. The target for Dix's satirical, often brutal style of expressionism was the horror of war, of which he had first-hand experience, and the decadent depravities of the post-war Weimar Republic. He seemed to be fascinated by life's ugliness, witness his portrait art and genre painting in which realistic observation is caricatured and distorted with intense line, detail and acid colour. A member of Die Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) school, Dix was banned by the Nazis who classified his art as degenerate. Acclaimed as one of the great post-war expressionist painters, his 1920s paintings are considered to be some of the finest anti-war pictures in modern art. Among his best expressionist paintings are: Portrait Of The Journalist Sylvia Von Harden (1926, National Museum of Modern Art, Paris), one of his greatest portrait paintings; Match Seller (1920, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart); Prague Street (Galerie der Stadt, Stuttgart); Pimp with Prostitutes (1922, Private Collection); The Salon (1921) and Metropolis (1928), both in the Kunstmuseum, Stuttgart; Triptych of the War (1932, Neue Meister, Dresden); The Seven Deadly Sins (1933, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe). As far as his etching goes, his best known series is The War (Der Krieg) (1924). Dix is now seen as one of the best genre painters of the anti-war tradition, and also as one of the most expressive portrait artists of the 20th century.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest still life art, see:
Best Still Life Painters.
For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.


Early Life

Born in Untermhaus, Germany, the son of an iron foundry worker, Dix spent a good deal of his youth in the studio of his cousin, Fritz Amann, who was a painter. Then, between the age of 15 and 19, he trained locally under the artist Carl Senff, and began painting his first landscapes. In 1910, he entered the Dresden Academy of Arts and Crafts. During his studies he attended exhibitions of works by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90) and the Futurists, both of which became major influences on his personal style of painting.

World War I: Effect on Dix's Art

Dix volunteered for service in the German army during the war, and this traumatic experience (he was seriously wounded several times) had a huge effect on him (he suffered from recurring nightmares), and became a constant theme in his art until the 1930s. After the war he attended art classes at the Dresden Academy, and in 1919 played a leading role in the formation of the Dresden Sezession group - an association of politically engaged Expressionists and Dada artists. In 1920 he met the artist George Grosz (1893-1959), a later collaborator in the Neue Sachlichkeit movement; meantime, inspired by Dada, he started to include collage elements into his works, some of which he exhibited in the first Dada Fair in Berlin. Later the same year, his paintings also appeared at the German Expressionists exhibition in Darmstadt.

Among Dix's famous paintings from this period are: The Match Seller (1920, State Gallery, Stuttgart), showing a blind amputee ex-soldier begging and being ignored by passers-by; and The War (Der Krieg) (1924), a set of 50 etchings, later described as one of the most powerful and unpleasant anti-war statements in modern art. Another of Dix's brutally honest paintings was The Trench (1923), commissioned for the city of Cologne. It showed dismembered, putrifying corpses of soldiers, and caused such a furore that the Wallraf-Richartz Museum concealed it behind a screen. Konrad Adenauer, later the first post-war Chancellor of Germany, and the then mayor of Cologne, rejected the painting and sacked the museum director. Other works include Card-Playing War Cripples (1920, Private Collection) and The Artist's Parents (1921, Kunstmusem, Basle).

In 1923, Dix had his first solo exhibition at the IB Neumann Gallery in Berlin, and the following year Dix joined the city's Secession Movement. By this point his oil painting was becoming inceasingly realistic and he was using thin glazes of oil paint over tempera underpainting, in the manner of the Old Masters.


Die Neue Sachlichkeit Expressionist Group

In 1925, he participated in the Die Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) exhibition at the Mannheim museum - which also included works by modern artists such as George Grosz, Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, Karl Hubbuch, Rudolf Schlichter, Max Beckmann (1884-1950), Georg Scholz and others - and began organizing a series of collective exhibitions in major German cities. Throughout this period, Dix's work was highly critical of contemporary German society, leading him to highlight the bleaker aspects of urban life, such as prostitution: see Pimp and Prostitutes (1922, Private Collection). At the same time he was an exceptionally incisive portraitist, using intense line, detail and acid colour to create powerful portraits and engravings of his friends. An excellent example is Portrait of Sylvia von Harden (1926, Pompidou Centre, Paris).

At the end of 1926, Dix was appointed a teacher at the Dresden Academy, but he continued his bitter attacks on the decadence and corruption of the Weimar Republic, as exemplified by his triptych Metropolis (1928), a scornful attack on the depraved revelry of the time.

For more about Dix's contribution to the evolution of early expressionism, see: History of Expressionist Painting (c.1880-1930).

Degenerate Art

In 1933, following the establishment of the Nazi regime, he was dismissed from his teaching post, to which his response was The Seven Deadly Sins (1933, State Gallery, Stuttgart) a pictorial summary of the vices on show in the new Germany. As Nazi control tightened, Dix was banned from exhibiting his works in public and - like Emil Nolde (1867-1956), Paul Klee (1879–1940), Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), Oskar Kokoschka (1885-1980), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) and Marc Chagall (1887-1985) - was labelled a "degenerate artist". His paintings were exhibited in the state-sponsored Munich 1937 "Entartete Kunst" exhibition of degenerate art, and later burned. The artist was also compelled to join the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts (Reichskammer der bildenden Kuenste), a subdivision of Goebbels' Cultural Ministry (Reichskulturkammer), and required to confine himself to landscapes, but he continued his allegorical paintings criticising Nazi ideals.

World War II and Aftermath

In 1939, Dix was arrested by the Nazis on a charge of conspiracy to assassinate Hitler but was later released. Towards the end of the war he was conscripted into the Volkssturm militia, captured by the French and released in early 1946. After 1946 he held Professorships at Dresden and Dusseldorf, and received many honours from both West and East Germany. He also continued painting for many years, but never exceeded the impact or originality of his pre-war paintings, especially those of the 1920s.


Regarded as one of the great 20th century painters, and an influential figure within the expressionist movement in Germany, works by Otto Dix hang in many of Europe's best art museums, including: the Kunstmuseum Basle, the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, the National Museum of Modern Art, Pompidou Centre Paris, and others.

• For a chronological list of important dates, see: Timeline: History of Art.
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