Germany • 1891−1969

Wilhelm Heinrich Otto Dix (Wilhelm Heinrich Otto Dix, December 2, 1891, Gera, Germany - July 25, 1969, Singen, Germany) - German avant-garde artist and graphic artist, the most brutal satirist of the era between the two world wars. After the expressionist and Dadaist experiments, he participated in the “New materiality” association.

Features of the artist Otto Dix: Oddly enough, contemporaries valued Dix primarily as a portrait painter. The grotesque images of lawyers, doctors, journalists, poets and artists that Dix created in the 1920s were ordered to him by the models themselves. This is hard to believe, because Dix was truly merciless. But it is easy to believe in it, because he was fantastically insightful and accurate. Another huge part of his work is plots about death and human states, similar to death, moral and physical. Shameless prostitutes, voluptuous sailors, poor beggars of war, illness, sophisticated murderers and sadists, bloody mess of military fields - often these are pictures on the verge of kitsch, on the verge of decent and acceptable: they shock, turn inside out, instill fear and desire to quickly run. No triumph of the spirit and noble struggle - only people physically and morally crippled, who became the symbols of their time, the eerie allegory of post-war Germany.

Famous works of Otto Dix: "War", "Seven Deadly Sins", “Portrait of journalist Sylvia von Harden”, Metropolis, "Self-portrait with a palette", "Portrait of a lawyer, Dr. Fritz Glazer".

Otto Dix called himself a realist. In the era of avant-garde artistic searches and the birth of abstract art, all that interested him was an obsessive, unbiased fixation of the surrounding reality, people and landscapes. And if the artist saw around only the earth, twisted by explosions and dug by trenches, and dilapidated people, collecting themselves in parts, from flesh and garbage, he had to write just that. Dicks went all the way World War I from beginning to end, but friends often accused him of being apolitical. Dix created the most cynical and deprived of heroic pathos artistic statements about the war and post-war decline, but just the lack of heroism and solemn pathos made him the main pacifist artist in Germany.

Before the war

Otto Dix was 20 years old when he called in a letter to one of his friends four sources of inspiration: the Bible, Nietzsche, Goethe, but above all, nature. A young provincial from a small village, the son of a foundryman and a seamstress, he got to Dresden, entered the School of Arts and Crafts, was freed from tuition fees and was even awarded a scholarship. True, the formation of Dix was in no way connected with painting - he studied the interior decoration of the rooms. Of course, he received in-depth knowledge of the combination of colors and textures, finishing, painting and modeling. And all that he still needed to understand how the future artist found in the halls of the Dresden Gallery and in books. Soon he wrote first self portraitclearly inspired self portrait Albrecht Durer, got to Nietzsche, and decided on the direction of movement: he has a difficult path to the ideals of the Northern Renaissance, to Grünewald and Cranham, Holbein and van eykam... To tension and rigor, to frightening naturalism "Isenheim Altar" and anxiety "Melancholy".

When the First World War begins, many German artists will venture to the front as volunteers, intoxicated by the changes and ideas of cleansing the world. For others, this decision will be dictated by patriotic fervor. Otto Dix goes to war, because war is the main reality of his time. “I had to go to war. I had to survive this. I had to understand what it was like when a bullet suddenly hits a person next to me and he falls. I am such a realist, I had to see all this with my own eyes ... hunger, fleas, dirt, trousers that were crawled with fear ... To be crucified, to experience the deepest abyss in life "- He explained in an interview before his death. And unlike his compatriots, who were looking for change and heroic deeds, he found exactly what he was looking for. Hunger and dirt.


Realist Otto Dix for 4 years served as an artilleryman, fought in Flanders, France, Belarus, participated in the bloodiest battle on the Somme, in which tanks were used for the first time and in which more than a million people died. In the long, difficult days of waiting, the most disturbing for any soldier, in the days of silence between battles, he drew without ceasing. I received food and art materials from relatives and friends by mail and sent them ready-made drawings, watercolors and gouaches. Scared them, remaining in the rear, with stories about what pleasure he experienced, sticking a bayonet into the flesh of the enemy. But she wrote 300 letters to her friend in Esperanto, a utopian international language, did not want to use German and thus denote nationality or any patriotic ideals. No patriotism - only dirt and hunger, only bullets, which have recently cut off a living person.

By the end of the war, as early as 1918, Dix was wounded — his neck and head were stung by shrapnel. But even after the hospital, he can not stop - and becomes a certified pilot after the war.

Unlike millions of veterans, Otto Dix returns home not just alive, but whole. Hands, feet, eyes in place. But for many more years he will gather himself into a whole person, build up the ugly prostheses of cynicism in those places where he especially hurts. He had to remember how to live without war. The only thing that remained unchanged and what did not have to adapt to was the eager desire to write.


The 1920s are a time of resounding success and happiness for Dix. As complete as possible in post-war Germany. He signs a contract with the Karl Nerendorf Gallery, becomes a professor at the Dresden Academy of Arts, participates in exhibitions of the Berlin Dada Club and New Objectivity, and even an impressionist Lieberman recognizes him and invites to the Prussian Academy. Never being a bohemian, secular man, Dix nevertheless becomes a popular portrait painter and travels all over Germany, carrying out private orders. Sometimes inflation eats up his fee even before the portrait is finished, sometimes he comes to the customer - and cannot leave because the city is under French siege. His picture “The Trench” (not preserved) is bought by the Cologne Museum, but soon, under pressure from offended critics and viewers, it returns back. One day, he even gets sued for a painting that “threatens moral standards” (has not been preserved). He is loved and hated. Blamed for ostentatious provocative or deliberate vulgarity. But even the most scandalous stories only play into his hands - he is one of the most famous and progressive German artists.

Not the easiest and most pleasant person who paints frankly unpleasant pictures, Dix changes dramatically. He fell in love passionately and from the very first meeting. Threw letters and did not worry that his beloved was actually married. Favors Martha Koch he achieved quickly because her husband is a dermatologist Hans Kochit turns out that he has long been in love with Martha's sister - and it gives relief. Their common children remain with Hans, who, moreover, becomes Dix's close friend, helps him with articles to catalogs and in general the Kokhov and Dixes families now have family relationships. The artist from each city, to which he leaves to perform the next customized portrait, writes letters to his young wife. At home, he writes portraits of all three children who were born soon after the happy unraveling of the love quadrangle.

This is the time of the most intense and provocative creative activity of Otto, the time of love, intoxicating creative freedom, demand, desperate audacity, personal exhibitions in Germany and America, overcoming difficulties and lack of money. On the other hand, this is the time of the most powerful reflections on the death and mortality of all living things, on the inferiority and lifelessness of half-robots spat out by the war (1, 2, 3). This is the time of disturbing war engravings and canvases, written in anticipation of a new catastrophe, in an atmosphere of growing patriotic and militaristic sentiments in Weimar Germany, in the general exaltation of waiting for a grandiose military revenge.


In 1933, the National Socialists came to power in Germany. Dix is dismissed from his position as a professor and forbidden to write in a brazen grotesque manner that insults a nation. It is included in the list of 18 most dangerous artists of the country, a search is conducted in the house and several paintings are intentionally holed. He considers it extremely dangerous to continue living with his wife and children in Dresden, exposing their lives to daily danger - all together they leave to live in a village on the border with Switzerland, leaving a tiny opportunity at the very least to escape from the country. Here he writes cold, deserted and red-hot disturbing landscapes - just to hold on to something. And one of the most evil and incomprehensible picturesin which he portrays Hitler as an offended child, an allegory of mortal sin - envy.

In 1934, his paintings will be removed from those museums that have risked at one time to purchase them. Some of them will go to the exhibition "Degenerative Art", and then it will be destroyed. Realist Dix is no longer eager to see the war, its filth and horror. He saw all this 20 years ago - and knows that he will not find anything new. Already in 1945, the 54-year-old artist will fall under the call, will be in captivity and will be released only in 1946.

In a country divided into two parts, it was almost forgotten. In West Germany, abstract art triumphs. In the Eastern, the system of values is being rebuilt and propagandize solemn, heroic realism, which differs little from Nazi propaganda. Dix becomes an honorary member of several art academies, participates in exhibitions, but does not immediately find himself in the new Germany. He will be 60 when museums start offering big money for his landmark works, when critics write 2 books about him. But even in the most difficult times he did not leave the country, perhaps because he simply could not take all his relatives with him.

Dix and his family settled in West Germany. To cross the border and go to the East is allowed only to him, not his family. Money received in Eastern cannot be spent in Western. He spends a lot of time in Dresden, not only because his main artistic activity is connected with this city. There is another family waiting for him. Kate Koenig can hardly be called a mistress, and her relationship with Dix is an affair. Their relationship lasted for more than 30 years, their daughter was born, the artist established a whole system of friendly relations in order to support Kate and her child in money and letters in the most difficult times. Dix's wife Martha learned about this second family only two months before his death.

The whole life of the artist Dix obsessed with reality consisted of war, expectations of war, injury, captivity and the consequences of war. First one, then the other. He lived 78 years at the most brutal time in the most dangerous country, but he hardly considered his life to be extremely difficult. Because he spent all his youth in the halls of the Dresden Gallery - and he knew that the world at all times was obsessed with violence, power and envy, and people were always mortal. His scandalous painting, he only continued the tradition, originating a long time ago, somewhere at the dawn of the Northern Renaissance.

Author: Anna Sidelnikova
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