In 1930s Hitler and the National Socialist Party used the term degenerate to call art that is unacceptable. Degenerate –
having declined or become less specialized (as in nature, character, structure, or function) from an ancestral or former state in physical, mental, or moral qualities. It was stated that the art should reflect triple K of Germany, which was Kinder, Küche, Kirche’: family, home and church.
Otto Dix was one of the degenerates targeted by the Nazis, he was a professor in the Art Academy and a good artist himself. His art was a lot influenced by the First World War, where he was conscripted as well. He reflected the events of war as they were emphasizing the useless of the ongoing conflict.
He was also criticizing the previous government in 1920s reflecting the truth about the Weimar Republic, which he considered to be right only on the surface ruled by hypocrites. A lot of Dix’s art was destroyed, the majority that have survived are from the period of 1920s.
Otto Dix, Self Portrait with Easel, 1926
Salon I (1921)
Otto Dix, Salon I (1925)
Dix reflects the scene from the brothel with old prostitutes who are still dressing up trying to attract new clients. Dix leaves the question on the painting what happens with these women when they start to age?
Otto Dix, Salon II (1925)
The painting above was destroyed by the Nazis as inappropriate. The painting reflects the process of client’s choice.
When being under the trial Dix commented – “The idea of the painting is to depict the whole ghastly, dehumanizing effect of prostitution…The way the women are portrayed is intended to be revolting: to arouse exactly the opposite feeling to lust.”
Portrait of the Dancer, Anita Berber (1925)
Otto Dix, The Dancer Anita Berber (1925)
Anita Berber was famous cabaret dancer with enormous amount of admirers, she even had her own biographer. Anita had full control of her body or the other way around but the combination of it created magic on the stage. However she had a downfall – alcohol and drugs.
Dix and his wife were close friends with the dancer, on the painting above Dix managed to capture the movement, the dress seems to be sliding along her body while she dances.
The Portrait of the Journalist, Sylvia von Harden (1926)
Otto Dix, Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926)
After the end of the war people were craving for light that can be found in art, music, film or literature, all of which were located in Berlin nightclubs. In one of the cafes Dix met journalist Sylvia von Harden. Her portrait was also deemed to be degenerate due to androgynous nature. But this was the way majority of women dressed and behaved back then. Later this painting was used for a character in the Cabaret movie in 1972.
Dix, Otto, 1891–1969.“Metropolis”
Dix utilized the triptych painting approach to express his imagination. The central part reflects glamorous Berlin life in 1920s spent dancing and enjoying jazz, it bears symbol of freedom and relief people finally felt after the war, judging by the transvestite dancer presence, weathers, other people style and jewelry.
Nevertheless, on the sides of the triptych the mood is gloomier filled with the consequences of the war, people trying to earn their living – prostitutes with the artist himself or pleasure seekers ignoring the beggar.
“All 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.” (Dix)