Saturday 24 May 2014

Der Krieg - The War Art of Otto Dix

Mealtime 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

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

Der Krieg no.34 Front-line Soldier in Brussels  (Frontsoldat in Brüssel) A soldier lurks in darkness surrounded by voluptuous whores in expensive clothing. In this view, they are nothing more than war profiteers. In reality they lived in dire poverty.
Front-line Soldier in Brussels

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

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

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.

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.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.49 Roll Call of Returning Troops (Appell der Zurückgekehrten) The war took a great toll on all its participants. Here the living are barely distinguishable from the dead. They report to a well-fed administrative officer in a clean pressed uniform.
Roll Call of Returning Troops

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.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

On show at De La Warr Pavilion 17 May to 27 July
Free entry
Booking and Information: 01424 229 111

A major and rare loan of 19 prints from the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum as a stand-alone display.

Commemorating the centenary of WW1, which began with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand on June 28 1914, the exhibition will present a selection from the series Der Krieg (The War) 1924.

Made ten years after the beginning of WW1, presumably because it was only then that Dix could return to the experiences that he went through in the trenches, the prints were ground-breaking: through the impact of the images that Dix conjured, and also in the unique combination of multiple print-making techniques that he employed.

When the Nazis came to power in Germany, they regarded Dix as a degenerate artist and had him sacked from his post as an art teacher at the Dresden Academy. He later moved to Lake Constance in the southwest of Germany. Dix's paintings The Trench and War cripples were exhibited in the state-sponsored Munich 1937 exhibition of degenerate art, Entartete Kunst. They were later burned.

Dix, like all other practicing artists, was forced to join the Nazi government's Reich Chamber of Fine Arts (Reichskammer der bildenden Kuenste), a subdivision of Goebbels' Cultural Ministry (Reichskulturkammer). Membership was mandatory for all artists in the Reich. Dix had to promise to paint only inoffensive landscapes. He still painted an occasional allegorical painting that criticized Nazi ideals.

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