On this day in 1891, the great painter Otto Dix was born. Other than “modernist,” I don’t know quite what you would call him, even though he is considered a German realist. His work is highly idiosyncratic. There is a kind of cartoon aspect to it at the same time that it is shockingly blunt. That’s especially true of his depictions of war. He fought in the infantry for Germany during World War I — first on the western front, then on the eastern front, and then back on western front. He fought in the war for three years before receiving a “career” ending wound on his neck shortly before the end of the war. He seems to have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder — haunted by nightmares that he rendered in his work.
Here is a picture in four panels, Der Krieg (“The War”), painted from 1929 through 1932. I would not have wanted to live inside his head. The first panel shows men on their way to battle. The second panel shows the battle. And the third panel shows the survivors of the battle. Normally, that would be all in a triptych, which Der Krieg nominally is. But Dix created a fourth panel of the dead and buried. It’s a remarkable, if horrific work:
When the Nazis took over Germany, they did not get along with Dix, whose work was considered “degenerate.” He was forced to paint landscapes. But after World War II got going, he was drafted in the German militia. Toward the end of the war, he was captured by French soldiers, which was probably all for the best.
Dix created a lot of other work that is more traditionally beautiful. Here is one of many of his wife Martha from the early 1920s. Notice the cream skin tone everywhere except on the right hand:
Happy birthday Otto Dix!