Dix was born near Gera but gained his first experience and training in art in the venerable baroque city of Dresden. He would return there in 1927 to take up a position as professor at the Academy. However, Dix’s first important work was produced in the midst of the violence of the First World War. Slightly younger than the original Expressionists, he had a long and prolific career in which his work went through significant changes.
Loosely, these changes followed the key developments in the German avant-garde, from Expressionism to Dada and then, from about 1923, the so-called Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity). However, Dix’s work was so varied that it cannot easily be reduced to simple formulae. Although he was one of Germany’s foremost modern artists, underlying much of his best work, especially from the mid-1920s on, was a close engagement with the Old German Masters – Cranach, Dürer and Baldung Grien.
When the war was over, Dix became involved in Expressionist and socialist circles such as the Berlin-based Novembergruppe and another group in Dresden, which also included the precociously gifted Felixmüller. Dix described himself many times as a “realist”. In his speech and behaviour he was blunt and had little time for idealistic dreams of revolution. Prager Street was one of Dix’s most innovative and memorable responses to the aftermath of war.
As with his group of crippled war veterans playing cards of the same year, Dix used the blunt juxtaposition of artificial materials, fragments of everyday objects and oil paint to reconstruct a chaotic reality of broken bodies and alienated modernity. By the time Dix became a professor at the Dresden Academy, he was working with methods and materials more commonly associated with the Old Masters of the sixteenth century. His Großstadt (Metropolis) triptych of 1928 was prepared with infinite care and intended as a modern masterpiece.
By this time, Dix had eschewed Expressionism. Nonetheless, the tableaux of sex in the city, based on the glitter and the squalor of Berlin, with its pungent juxtaposition of Eros and death, continues the themes that had preoccupied Dix almost from the start. He died on 25 July 1969 after a second stroke in Singen am Hohentwiel.
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