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Otto Dix Photo

Otto Dix

German Painter and Printmaker

Born: December 2, 1891 - Untermhaus, Germany
Died: July 25, 1969 - Singen, Germany
Movements and Styles:
New Objectivity
Magic Realism
"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."
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Otto Dix Signature
"Artists shouldn't try to improve or convert. They are far too insignificant for that. They must only bear witness."
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Otto Dix Signature
"If one paints someone's portrait, one should not know him if possible. No knowledge. I do not want to know him at all. I want only to see what is there, the outside. The inner follows by itself. It is mirrored in the visible."
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Otto Dix Signature
"Trust your eyes."
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Otto Dix Signature
"I have to experience all the ghastly, bottomless depths for life for myself; it's for that reason that I went to war, and for that reason I volunteered."
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Otto Dix Signature
"I'm not that obsessed with making representations of ugliness. Everything I've seen is beautiful."
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Otto Dix Signature
"I will either be famous or infamous."
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Otto Dix Signature
"Everybody thinks they know what art should be. But very few of them have the sense that is necessary to experience painting, that is the sense of sight, that sees colors and forms as living reality in the picture."
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Otto Dix Signature

Summary of Otto Dix

Otto Dix has been perhaps more influential than any other German painter in shaping the popular image of the Weimar Republic of the 1920s. His works are key parts of the Neue Sachlichkeit ("New Objectivity") movement, which also attracted George Grosz and Max Beckmann in the mid 1920s. A veteran haunted by his experiences of WWI, his first great subjects were crippled soldiers, but during the height of his career he also painted nudes, prostitutes, and often savagely satirical portraits of celebrities from Germany's intellectual circles. His work became even darker and more allegorical in the early 1930s, and he became a target of the Nazis. In response, he gradually moved away from social themes, turning to landscape and Christian subjects, and, after serving in the army during WWII, enjoyed some considerable acclaim in his later years.


  • 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 paintings.

Biography of Otto Dix

Otto Dix Photo

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. He first displayed his artistic talent - especially in drawing - during elementary school. At the age of ten, he modeled for painter Fritz Amann and, impressed by his experience in the studio, decided to become a painter himself. His school art teacher, Ernst Schunke, guided his study and helped him get financial assistance. The award required that he learn a craft while he continued to study art with Schunke, so he became an apprentice decorator for four years.

Progression of Art

Skat Players (Card-Playing War Cripples) (1920)

Skat Players (Card-Playing War Cripples)

Showing both his Dadaist and Cubist influences, Dix makes a clear social statement using his bold technique in this painting. The skat players are war veterans horribly disfigured and crippled by their service, yet they are still able to play cards. Skat was a card game favored by Krupps, the German manufacturers of weapons. Dix uses the repetition of the cards, the chair legs, and the stumped limbs of the men to build a composition that is disturbing in form as well as content.

Oil on canvas with photomontage and collage - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Portrait of the Lawyer Dr. Fritz Glaser (1921)

Portrait of the Lawyer Dr. Fritz Glaser

This picture of the lawyer Dr. Fritz Glaser is typical of Dix's portraiture from the early 1920s, in which he depicted his friends from the professional classes - doctors, lawyers and other notables who were also interested in the arts. Dr. Glaser assembled an extensive collection of art including works by artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Emil Nolde. Dix shows him in front of the snow-covered facade of a typically ornate Dresden building, which appears to have been shattered during the war. Typical of his inclination toward caricature, the artist emphasizes the prominent features in Glaser's face, in this case his Semitic nose. The picture is also typical of the contradictions in Dix's life and work - contradictions between the good relations he had with many of Dresden's bourgeoisie, and the icy, critical tone with which his art remembered them.

Oil on canvas - Pompidou Centre, Paris

Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926)

Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden

As a character of her time just as the woman herself, this image of Sylvia von Harden became iconic of the era. This portrait is perhaps Dix's most recognized. It was even referenced in the 1972 film Cabaret, set in Weimar-era Berlin. It is said that Dix painted this portrait after seeing von Harden in the street and exclaiming, "I must paint you, I simply must! You represent an entire epoch." She was amused. "So you want to paint my lackluster eyes, my ornate ears, my long nose, my thin lips. You want to paint my short legs, my big feet -- things that can only frighten people and delight no one?" Dix claimed that she was a perfect image for a society that was less concerned about a woman's outward appearance than her psychological state.

Oil on canvas - Pompidou Centre, Paris

The War (1929-32)

The War

Dix was extremely affected by his war experiences and returned to them often for inspiration. The War shows men going into battle, it shows the aftermath of conflict, and it shows them returning from the field. Dix studied the Old Masters in both their subject matter and painting methods. This triptych is immediately reminiscent of grand history paintings as well as German Renaissance artist Matthias Gruenwald's Isenheim altarpiece (1506-15). Andrea Mantegna's Dead Christ (1480) is evoked in the lower panel showing the dead soldiers. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Nietzsche, and the Bible also influenced Dix, thus associations of sacrifice and apocalypse with war imagery are common in his works.

Oil and tempera on wood - Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden

Seven Deadly Sins (1933)

Seven Deadly Sins

In response to the Nazis' dismissing him from his teaching post at the Berlin Academy, Dix created this surreal satire on German politics. The figure of Sloth, depicted in the center, is a skeleton whose outstretched arms and scythe form a sort of swastika. Dix felt that this sloth or lack of concern and unwillingness to take early action by the German people had allowed Hitler's rise to power. The most poignant aspect of this picture is the representation of Envy, riding on the back of Avarice: he wears a Hitler mask. However, it wasn't until after the war that Dix painted in the telltale mustache.

Oil and egg tempera on wood - State Gallery, Stuttgart

Self Portrait with Palette before Red Curtain (1942)

Self Portrait with Palette before Red Curtain

Dix created many self-portraits throughout his lifetime. His maturity as an artist and a man can be chronicled in these reflective and intense studies of his own image. In this scene, he is fully facing the viewer, while in other portraits he is in profile. He is engaged in the act of painting, presumably the portrait itself. The dark and ominous view of the Alps can be seen out the window in the distance.

Mixed media on wood - Private Collection

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Otto Dix
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  • Carl Einstein
    Carl Einstein
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Content compiled and written by Ashley Remer

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Otto Dix Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Ashley Remer
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 22 Jan 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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