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Otto Dix
(German, 1891-1969)
Skat Players (Die Skatspieler) (later titled Card-Playing War Cripples [Kartenspielende Kriegskrüppel])

Otto Dix. Skat Players (Die Skatspieler) (later titled Card-Playing War Cripples [Kartenspielende Kriegskrüppel]). 1920

(German, 1891-1969) Oil on canvas with photomontage and collage, 43 5/16 x 34 1/4" (110 x 87 cm) Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
© 2006 Nationalgalerie. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz

Narrator: Curator Anne Umland calls this work a haunting meditation on the physical and psychological effects of war.

Curator, Anne Umland: We're looking at a group of three German military officers, the shattered hulks of their bodies speaking to the devastation wreaked on Germany and on the heroic figure of the invulnerable war hero by WWI.

As you look through Dix's painting you see this contrast between the mechanical and the organic, between flesh and prosthetics, between the viscous application of oil paint and the materials of montage or collage.

Along the lower edge of the composition, this play between organic and inorganic is particularly poignant in the similarities between the officer's prosthetic legs and the wooden legs of the chairs. There is a sympathy involved in his portrayal of these dysfunctional figures, who are reduced to mere shadows of their former self.

Narrator: The mechanical jaw of the man on the right bears a small portrait of the artist, who, like many of his contemporaries, had initially greeted the war with excitement. After the sobering experience of trench warfare, however, Dix joined the Dadaist cause, bearing witness to the senseless slaughter on the battlefield.