The reciprocal interweaving of socio-political influences and artistic development reflects the research focus of my doctoral thesis “Ein deutscher Maler. Otto Dix and National Socialism”. The focus is on the analysis of the genesis of his works and the political influences reflected in them.
The work of the artist Otto Dix (1891-1969), created during the National Socialist era in Germany, has so far occupied a secondary position in the research landscape. The reason for this is, on the one hand, the fact that the socio-political-veristic oeuvre of the 1920s is still considered characteristic of the painter today and is of continuing popularity both in the research landscape and on the art market. On the other hand, 1933 saw a significant artistic upheaval in Dix’s oeuvre, which resulted in a fundamental change in motifs. Instead of the characteristic depictions that were critical of society and the times, Otto Dix became a landscape painter at the beginning of the National Socialist dictatorship. This artistic development took place at the same time as the so-called “seizure of power”. This was accompanied by the fact that the painter and his work were continually denounced as ‘morally endangering’ and ‘impairing the will of the German people to defend themselves’ in the course of Nazi cultural policy. As a result, Dixʼ participation in the official art scene was subject to severe restrictions and his teaching position at the Dresden Academy of Arts was terminated against the background of his pacifist art of war.
The doctoral thesis completed in 2019 is based on the thesis that the artistic upheaval was caused by the prevailing state and socio-political developments. However, the process of motivic change is not understood as a turning away from time-critical commentaries on the medium of painting, but rather the landscape genre is seen as a subtle form of expression that transports time criticism in the hidden. In order to examine Dix’s artistic situation in a reciprocal, time-political relationship, the painter, his work and his professional background are first placed in the art-political context of the Weimar Republic, National Socialism and the immediate post-war period. Beyond the extraction of the political-iconographic readings, the aim is to record the painter’s works in the context of the respective period of their origin. The evaluation of the sources as well as the work analyses have shown that Dixʼ oeuvre oscillates between conservatism and critical opinion, which is also reflected in the art-political position between ostracism and appreciation.
Otto Dix, Hegaulandschaft am Abend (1935), Mischtechnik auf Holz, 60 x 85 cm, Otto Dix Stiftung, Vaduz © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020