Appearing ten years after the conflict began, Otto Dix’s monumental portfolio Der Krieg (The war) neither glorifies World War I nor heroizes its soldiers but shows, in fifty unrelentingly graphic images, the horrible realities experienced by someone who was there. Dix, an artillery gunner in the trenches at the Somme and on the Eastern Front, focused on the aftermath of battle: dead, dying, and shell-shocked soldiers, bombed-out landscapes, and graves.
Dix manipulated the etching and aquatint mediums to heighten the emotional and realistic effects of his meticulously rendered images of horror. He stopped out ghastly white bones and strips of no man’s land, leaving brilliant white patches; multiple acid baths ate away at the images, mimicking decaying flesh.
Titles detailing precise places and dates confer an illusion of documentary authenticity. Dix did not transcribe his wartime sketchbooks; these nightmarish scenes are based on his memories of battle, on photographs (including many that had been censored during wartime), and on catacombs. For Dix, these prints were like an exorcism. Dix’s publisher, Karl Nierendorf in Berlin, circulated the portfolio throughout Germany with a pacifist organization, Never Again War, though Dix himself doubted that his prints could have any bearing on future wars. Despite the intensive publicity, Nierendorf sold only one complete portfolio from the edition of seventy.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.