"I don't paint what anybody wants. Sorry. I just happen to be such a self-confident proletarian, you know, that I say: 'I'm going to do that! You can say what you want.' I don't know myself what that's good for. But I do it. Because I know that is how it was and not different."
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. He 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.
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. He 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.
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.
The direct confrontation with the war at the front lines was so grave for Otto Dix, so horrific, that this experience in fact marked him for life. More than 600 drawings from the years 1914 to 1918 were done at various theatres of war in Belgium, France and Russia, in the course of his military service.
These protocols of war, together with his own memories of the horrors of World War I, also formed the basis of a later grandiose serial work entitled 'The War', published in 1924 by Karl Nierendorf. The cycle, consisting of fifty separate drawings and often compared to Goya's Desastres de la Guerra, not only gives an authentic and horrifying portrayal of the terrible trench fighting that took place in WWI - it also unmasks the war for what it truly is. This series of etchings, which ranks particularly high among the main works of Dix's oeuvre, forms the center of attention in this exhibition.
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. The truth was important for Dix, the inexorable drive to show the truth was already a source of agitation and protest among his contemporaries before the Nazis were in power.
His work became even darker and more allegorical in the early 1930s, and he became a target of the Nazis. Otto Dix was also a professor at the Kunstakademie in Dresden was deemed by the Nazis to be degenerate and suffered as a consequence. His works were shown in the infamous 1937 exhibition in Munich, and were later destroyed. He was also removed from his post as professor.
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.
'I will either be famous or infamous', he once said as a young man. He has become both.