Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Otto Dix and World War 1

Otto Dix was a German painter who fought in World War 1. He went to fight full of enthusiasm, but what he experienced in the battlefields strongly traumatized him. After the war he had recurring nightmares with the scenes he had seen during the war and he painted several paintings and made a series of etchings that reminds of Goya's War Disasters about the Peninsular War. Here you have some of his works and a short video about his art:


Der Krieg no.12 Stormtroops advancing under a gas attack  (Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor) The scene is other-worldly as gas clouds the atmosphere. Their features are obscured by masks and their fingers are curled like claws. These are men who will kill by any means. But are they men?

Stormtroops advancing under a gas attack

Otto DIX, Verwundeter (Herbst 1916, Bapaume)  [Wounded soldier - Autumn 1916, Bapaume], plate 6 from Der Krieg

Wounded soldier

Otto Dix, Der Krieg. Der Krieg no.5 Corpse of a horse  (Pferdekadaver) Men were not the only victims of their savagery. The war indiscriminately destroyed anything in its path.

Corpse of a horse

Otto Dix, Der Krieg. Der Krieg no.4 Crater field near Dontrien lit up by flares  (Trichterfeld bei Dontrien, von Leuchtkugeln erhellt) Already by plate number four we begin to understand this is no ordinary series of etchings. Throughout the series, Dix demonstrates a commanding use of print techniques with etching, dry point and aquatint. Here a night time flare illuminates a lunar landscape.

Crater field near Dontrien lit up by flares

Der Krieg no.9 Collapsed trenches  (Zerfallender Kampfgraben) For all its discomfort, the trench was home. Here the enemy managed to destroy a section of home and the scene is depicted almost as Armageddon. Two pieces of tattered cloth hover above the soldier. One resembles the Reaper, the other a vulture. Each awaits the soldier's fate which is most certainly death.

Collapsed trenches

Der Krieg no.18 Dead sentry in the trenches  (Toter Sappenposten) Throughout this series, Dix presents a wide array of ways in which a  soldier can meet his death. We've seen men ripped by bullets as they  were tangled in barbed wire or buried alive as a trench collapsed. In this plate, a soldier remains posed in the exact position he held at the moment the sniper's bullet found its target.
Dead sentry in the trenches

Der Krieg no.3 Gas victims - Templeux-la-Fosse, August 1916  (Gastote - Templeux-la-Fosse, August 1916) By 1924, people were aware of the horrors of gas but censored wartime reporting spared many from its ghastly details. Here the results are depicted with raw clarity of someone who was there. Indeed, much of Der Krieg was based on Dix's wartime diary drawings. Many were probably struck by the appearance of the victims, darkened for lack of oxygen and the nonchalance of the medical staff who had seen it many times before.
Gas victims

Otto Dix, Der Krieg. Der Krieg no.47 Transporting the Wounded in Houthulst Forest  (Verwundetentransport im Houthulster Wald) In the First World War, the automobile was put to work as an ambulance. Trains and steam ships carried wounded to home-front hospitals.  Despite such advances, a wounded man often relied on comrades to  get him off the field.

Transporting the Wounded in Houthulst Forest

Der Krieg no.31 Skull (Schädel) For all its waste, the war provided a windfall for scavengers. The First World War produced generations of happy worms and maggots. Trench rats roamed as big as beavers. Gas was sometimes a welcome respite as it decimated these pests.

Der Krieg no.23 Dead man in the mud  (Toter im Schlamm) Mud defined a soldier's experience on the Western Front. He marched in it, slept in it, fought in it and often died in it. For the artist it offered rich textures which Dix captured nicely with aquatint.

Dead man in the mud


The War Cripples (1920)

The Trench (1923)

This painting was destroyed during the Nazi era

War Triptych (1929-1932)

Flanders (1934)


On this link you can download a presentation with the complete series of Etchings: 

And this is a video that summarizes Otto Dix career and his participation in WW1: 

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