German painter and graphic artist Otto Dix (1891-1969) became best known for his work in the 1920s as the leading exponent of Die Neue Sachlichkeit (The New Objectivity). His works of social criticism were called "degenerate" by the Nazis.
Otto Dix was born December 2, 1891, in Untermhaus (Thuringia) of working class parents with arts and crafts inclinations. While attending the Volksschule from 1899 to 1905 he showed talent enough to be apprenticed to a decorative painter in nearby Gera. Dix encountered modern art in his travels and in Dresden, where he studied at the School of Decorative Art from 1909 to 1914. Influence by the early German artists Dürer and Cranach was soon succeeded by that of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. By 1912 Dix had made contact with the Expressionists, experience of which provided the footing for his mature art.
It was while serving in the army from 1915 to 1918 that Dix first exhibited his famous war drawings (1916), so prophetic, both in style and in content, of his later work. Dix returned to Dresden in 1919 and worked at the Dresden Academy until 1922, during which time he became loosely associated with the Berlin Dadaists, who exhibited his work in the "scandalous" 1920 International Dada Fair. During these same years he was also a member of the politically oriented Novembergruppe and Gruppe 1919 of the Dresden Sezession. Between 1922 and 1925, years spent at the Düsseldorf Academy, Dix published his famous etching cycle, Der Krieg. The work was executed in a veristic style, already apparent in his work from 1920.
Even by this time Dix had become well known for his bitter socio-political criticism. The uncompromising nature of his vision and his almost forced attention to detail were part of a general reaction against abstraction following World War I. His work, along with that of others, was labeled Die Neue Sachlichkeit by Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub, director of the Mannheim Kunsthalle, on the occasion of an exhibition there. Art historian Paul Ferdinand Schmidt had coined the same name for the same tendencies at precisely the same time. His reputation grown, Dix was given his first retrospective exhibition at the Galerie Nierendorf in 1926 and served as professor at the Dresden Academy of Art from 1927 to 1933.
Although respected and shown widely during this period, he was declared "degenerate" by the Nazis in 1933 and was forbidden to teach. The following year he was also forbidden to exhibit. These were tense years, largely because Dix elected to stay in Germany. He moved frequently until settling in Hemmenhofen in 1936. The following year eight of his works were included in the Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich, and in 1938 260 of Dix's works were confiscated and either destroyed or sold. In 1939 Dix was arrested by the Gestapo in Dresden; in 1945 he served in the Volkssturm, during which time he was taken prisoner by the Allies at Colmar.
From 1946, following his return to Hemmenhofen, Dix exhibited widely, and starting in 1948 he concentrated much of his energy on lithography. His style softened somewhat and his content became more mystical and religious in its orientation. During his late years Dix enjoyed a number of prestigious teaching posts. Suffering poor health the last few years of his life, Dix died of a stroke, at the age of 77, on July 25, 1969.
Further Reading on Otto Dix
Although much of the Dix literature is written in German, English language studies have appeared. Linda F. McGreevy, The Life and Works of Otto Dix (1981) discusses the artist's entire career, while Brigid S. Barton, Otto Dix and Die Neue Sachlichkeit (1981) concentrates on the years from 1918 to 1925. Fritz Löffler, Otto Dix, Leben und Werk (1978) and Florian Karsch, Otto Dix, Das graphische Werk, 1913-1960 (1971) both remain standard works on the artist. Dix's own writing was largely confined to catalog introductions of exhibited work and introductions to his published portfolios.
Additional Biography Sources
Otto Dix, life and work, New York: Holmes & Meier, 1982.