Dr. Mayer-Hermann was a renowned throat specialist whose waiting room was filled with the most prominent singers and actresses of his day. Dix was among his patients. While Dix is best known for his unflinching depictions of prostitutes, disabled war veterans, and other traumatized subjects, here he depicts an established professional with wit and satire. The abundance of circular shapes that fill the canvas parodies the doctor’s round body and face—from the curves of his chubby hands and the round bags under his eyes to the reflector on his headband and the mirror above his head.
Gallery label from 2012.
When Dix painted this picture of Wilhelm Mayer-Hermann, a prominent Berlin doctor, he was a favorite portraitist of Germany’s cultural bohemia and its patrons. Yet his eye could be coolly unflattering. Dix had fought in World War I, a crucial formative experience: “It is necessary to see people in this unchained condition in order to know something about man,” he said, and he came out of the war wanting “to depict things as they really are.” Having experimented earlier with Expressionist and other modern styles, in 1920 he abandoned them for an approach and technique modeled on fifteenth- and sixteenth-century German art. In the process he was identified with what became known as the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement, which advocated an unsentimental realism in the treatment of modern life.
Dix may portray the doctor exactingly, but the pose and the setting seem chosen to stress his rotundity. Everything is round: the face, the bags under the eyes, the double chin, the shoulders, the position of the arms, the tummy. A round lamp is affixed to the doctor’s forehead, and behind him are a round clock-face and a round electrical socket. However precise the depiction, it verges on satire.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 130.