Otto Dix La Grande Ville Descriptive Essay

"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."


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.

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 paintings.

Most Important Art

The War (1929-32)

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.

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Otto Dix Artworks in Focus:

Otto Dix Overview Continues Below



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.

Early Training

In 1909, Dix began his study at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. There was a huge creative output in the city, with a well-established and internationally renowned art and music scene that hosted large exhibitions and events. Dix did not struggle financially during art school; after the first semester he was exempt from paying fees and received a stipend. He also made extra money selling small portraits and genre paintings as well as coloring photographs. The Academy did not offer academic painting, but a more craft-oriented education. As a result, Dix was essentially a self-taught painter. But he did try sculpting under the guidance of Richard Guhr. A bust of Friedrich Nietzsche he created was purchased for the Dresden State Museum, but was later destroyed by the Nazis.

Through his intensive study of the Old Dutch, Italian, and German Masters, Dix taught himself how to paint with their methods - building up layers of paint to create depth and luminescence. However, he was also impressed by the Expressionists and the Post-Impressionists and in particular by a Vincent van Gogh exhibition that he saw in 1913. Primarily painting portraits and landscapes, Dix experimented with pen and ink and made his first prints in 1913.

Mature Period

When WWI began, Dix volunteered, somewhat eagerly, for service, and was drafted into a field artillery regiment; but by 1915 he was a machine gunner at the frontlines in France, and his experience of several horrific battles began to sour his enthusiasm. He was wounded several times, but managed to create sketches of many of the tragic scenes he witnessed. After the war, Dix resumed his art education with Max Feldbauer and Otto Gussman at the Dresden Academy of Art (1919-22).

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Otto Dix Biography Continues

In the aftermath of the war, Dresden was a shadow if its former self. No longer a seat of government, it suffered a huge drop in income and severe rationing. However, the artistic scene adapted and came back full force. With the value of money and political ideas in constant flux, Dix was driven to experiment. He had already taken on some elements of Futurism and Cubism during the war years; now he began integrating Dadaist and Expressionist elements into his work. In 1919, he co-founded the Dresdner Sezession Gruppe and participated in two of their exhibitions at the Galerie Emil Richter. He created surreal portraits and woodcuts, even delving into collage and mixed media.

After 1920, Dix synthesized and transformed these styles into his own brand of realism. Over the next few years, he composed some of his most disturbing canvases of sexual violence, murder, and cruelty. His Skat Players (Card-Playing War Cripples) (1920) is an example of this grotesque, yet poignant imagery. In 1921, he participated in exhibitions in Berlin and Dresden before moving to Dusseldorf in 1922. This relocation was an important shift as he studied with new teachers, Heinrich Nauen and Wilhelm Herbeholz, and became a part of both Johanna Ey's art salon circle and the German modernist Das Junge Rheinland group.

In 1923, Dix married Martha Koch and over the next decade had three children, all of whom were captured on canvas throughout their childhoods.

Throughout the 1920s Dix was included in many of the most significant exhibitions of new art in Germany. Most importantly, he was included in Neue Sachlichkeit, the exhibition at the Kunsthalle Mannheim in 1925 that gave its name to the movement that Dix would forever be associated with. Neue Sachlichkeit evolved out of Expressionism, but took on qualities of the classical, linear realism that was becoming prevalent in Italy and France.

It appeared more sober and realistic than previous styles, though in the hands of artists such as Dix and Grosz, it was no less critical. Some of the artists were called the Verists and could be aggressive and cynical, while others, less abrasive, were described as Magic Realists. Dix was a Verist and, with a critical spirit, he turned his portrait skills on the decadence and debauchery of Weimar society, with works like Metropolis (1927-28). Other notable canvases from this period include his triptych The War (1929-32).

In 1931, Dix was appointed a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. The same year he showed work in exhibitions all over Germany and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This renown was relatively short-lived, however, as the Nazis began to target him, regarding his art as immoral. As such, he was forbidden to exhibit in Germany, but he traveled to Switzerland several times during the mid 1930s and participated in several exhibitions there.

Forced to join the Nazi government's Reich Chamber of Fine Arts in 1934, Dix still managed to express himself. Seven Deadly Sins (1933) parodies Adolf Hitler as the embodiment of Envy. He was sent to a rural outpost and portrayed the surrounding landscapes in his work. In 1939, Dix was arrested on charges of plotting to kill Hitler, but the charges were dropped. He was captured by the French at the end of the war and held prisoner until 1946. Not wasting time, he painted a triptych for the prison camp chapel. After returning to Germany, Dix picked up where the war had interrupted his career. He resumed showing works and began making lithographs and documenting his war experiences and its effects in his work.

Late Years and Death

Much of Dix's later work focuses on post-war suffering, religious allegories, and Biblical scenes. Throughout the 1950s and '60s, he traveled a great deal and exhibited his work constantly. He was appointed to membership of many art academies in Florence, Berlin, and Dresden.

He continued making prints and participated in a short documentary film in 1965. In 1967, after traveling to Greece, he suffered a stroke, which paralyzed his left hand. He died in 1969.


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. They have also powerfully influenced portrait painters throughout the twentieth century. Although the rise of abstraction in the 1940s and 1950s continued to erode the importance of figurative portraiture, the tradition of portrait painting has continued throughout the West, and many leading artists continue to speak of Otto Dix with reverence.

Grande Ville (titre original allemand : Großstadt) (1927-1928) est un tableau sous forme de triptyque du peintre allemand Otto Dix.

Ce triptyque, d'une largeur totale de 402 centimètres a nécessité de nombreuses études préalables et deux années de réalisation (1927-1928).

Dans cette œuvre, le peintre a utilisé la technique du glacis, une technique empruntée aux maîtres du XVIe siècle qui consiste à superposer de fines couches de peintures pour dégager de la transparence et de la profondeur.

Analyse de l'œuvre Metropolis[modifier | modifier le code]

Le panneau latéral droit montre un quartier bourgeois et le panneau latéral gauche met en scène les bas fonds.

Sur chaque panneau latéral, deux cortèges de femmes sont représentées dans deux scènes de rue à la symétrie inversée. Prostituées (panneau latéral gauche) ou demi mondaines (panneau latéral droit), les femmes sont apparentées à des objets de consommation. Elles renforcent ainsi l’impuissante tension des hommes à terre.

Les figures masculines présentes sur chaque panneau latérale montrent les traumatismes de la guerre. Sur chaque panneau latéral, l'homme est mutilé de ses membres inférieurs : soit il se tient debout avec l'aide de béquilles (panneau de gauche) soit il est assis sur son buste (panneau de droite). L'homme sur le panneau droit est blessé en plus à la face qui est partiellement cachée et ses moignons sont exhibés. Il symbolise les gueules cassées. Il semble faire un salut militaire de la main droite.

Ces corps masculins, mémoire de la guerre, témoignent des douleurs des combats. La thématique de la guerre est particulièrement obsédante pour ce peintre, ancien combattant et engagé volontaire lors de la première guerre mondiale.

Sur le panneau latéral gauche, un homme avec un corps intact est étendu sur le sol : est ce une allusion à la guerre (un homme blessé par une balle) ou à une société débauchée (un homme ivre mort couché sur le sol) ?

Les hommes ne sont que envisagés que comme des intrus dans la partie opposée des panneaux. Ils ne suscitent que rejet ou absolue indifférence. Le chien qui aboie corrobore d'ailleurs l'idée d'exclusion (panneau latéral gauche).

Chacun de ces hommes a survécu à la guerre. Mais les séquelles ont à jamais meurtri leurs corps. L'espoir d'un retour à un ordre ancien n'est plus jamais envisageable. La destruction du corps s’inscrit définitivement dans la durée de la vie et dans la société.

Les hommes sont condamnés à l’immobilité ou bien la précarité de l’équilibre du corps interdit le mouvement, créant un contraste particulièrement frappant avec le tourbillon des danseurs du panneau central.

Le panneau central montre des musiciens d'un jazz-band avec un couple élégant qui danse et des spectateurs dans une salle de bal cossue. L'orchestre est essentiellement constitué de cuivres. Un des musiciens est noir faisant écho à l’arrivée de la musique américaine en Europe. Les danseurs virevoltent dans un charleston endiablé. La piste de danse, non représentée en perspective, semble prête à s'effondrer, créant une vraie fausse note dans cette ambiance de fête. Les vêtements raffinés des danseurs et des spectateurs sont somptueux (finesse des étoffes et des tissus, couleurs dorées et éclatantes).

Ce panneau central met en scène une partie de la société opulente qui semble étanche aux problèmes de la société et au monde extérieur comme le démontre l'absence de continuité visuelle entre le panneau central et les panneaux latéraux. Les laissés pour compte sont ignorés. Otto Dix montre ainsi une République de Weimar, cloisonnée , se voile la face, en plein déni d'elle même, refusant d'affronter les traumatismes subis.

Dans la ville, tensions et tentations et exorbitations, exacerbent une impuissance physique et économique. L'artiste pose un regard à la fois acerbe et douloureux sur cette société des années folles, cloisonnée, dans laquelle une minorité indifférente et riche oublie les traumatismes et les inégalités de la majorité.

Bibliographie[modifier | modifier le code]

Art et musique - Floriane Herrero - Collection Palette - (ISBN 978-2-35832-171-6)

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