Publication in: Spring 2023 Issue

From Mother to Sex Worker and Soldier to Veteran: Moralistic Tendencies in the Art of Otto Dix, 1920-1935
Beatrice Bradley
Art/Art History
Faculty Mentor(s):
Leisa Rundquist, Laurel Taylor and Regine Criser
Abstract / Summary:
The contributions of Otto Dix to Europe’s art historical canon are commonly categorized within the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), coalition, distinct in their stark approach to painting the reality of post-World War One Germany. However, many scholars tend to discount Dix’s deviations from the movement, notably his specific moralistic approaches to depictions of men and women. This paper analyzes the evolution of mothers and soldier archetypes lifted by Dix from völkisch (ethno-nationalist), ideology and transformed into his renditions of war veterans and sex workers within the timeframe of 1920-1935. In these fifteen years, Dix made significant modifications to his career in order to survive under the constraints of conservative völkisch and eventual Nazi principles. While völkisch rhetoric sought to uplift the roles of the mother as the epitome of womanhood and the soldier as the crux of manhood, the First World War plunged the German economy into a state of instability, forcing many into a life of poverty. This thesis argues that Dix implemented the tropes of the sex worker and the disfigured war veteran as a metaphor for the degradation of a society after the First World War and the extreme disparity of wealth which subsequently occurred during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933),. Dix painted maimed veterans and diseased women as pawns and victims of the German government, thereby angering völkisch traditionalists and members of the Nazi party who viewed the plight of these groups as punishment for their immorality. Moreover, representing these oppressed demographics was seen as a manifestation of degeneracy, making Dix a target of both The German Art Society and the Reich Chamber of Culture. Analysis of paintings such as Mother with Child (1921),, Metropolis (1927),, and Flanders (1934), present a more complex and nuanced perspective of Otto Dix’s artistic practice, as the subject matter both critiques and supports many narratives left out of the völkisch agenda.
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