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Expressionist Depictions of War

German Expressionists, many of whom fought in World War I, depicted the shattering experience of war.


The War (Der Krieg)

Otto Dix
(German, 1891–1969)

1924. Portfolio of fifty etching, aquatint, and drypoints, plate (each approx.): 8 11/16 x 9 1/16" (22 x 23 cm); sheet (each approx.): 15 11/16 x 16 9/16" (39.8 x 42.1 cm)

Otto Dix served as a machine gunner on the front lines of World War I. He enthusiastically embraced war as an inevitable part of life and a catalyst for change. Years after his service, he remembered the horrors of war in a series of 50 etchings and lithographs.

One print in the series, Shock Troops Advance under Gas, pictures soldiers as leering ghouls with gas mask faces. In Skull, worms weave their way through the eye sockets, as maggots nest in the few tufts of remaining hair. The portfolio of prints was circulated throughout Germany via a pacifist organization, Never Again War, though Dix himself doubted that his prints could have any bearing on future wars.

A printmaking technique based on the repulsion of oil and water, in which an oily substance is applied to a stone or other medium to transfer ink to a paper surface.

A type of print made by scratching marks onto the surface of a metal plate (usually copper, zinc, or steel) that has been treated with an acid-resistant waxy ground. When the plate is placed into a vat of acid, the acid bites through the exposed portions of the plate. The plate is inked, and an image is created by running the plate and paper through a printing press.

Multimedia

AUDIO: Curator Starr Figura discusses Otto Dix’s The War series

Questions & Activities

  1. Dix’s War

    Read Beauty, Truth and Goodness in Dix’s War by Ray Forward. The full text is published online: http://nga.gov.au/dix/edu.pdf

    Does the essay change your opinion about the prints from Dix’s War series? Why or why not? Imagine that you could post a comment to the essay online. Write your comment about how your opinion has or hasn’t changed.