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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 that involves drawing with greasy crayons or a liquid called tusche, on a polished slab of limestone; aluminum plates, which are less cumbersome to handle, may also be used. The term is derived from the Greek words for stone (litho) and drawing (graph). When the greasy image is ready to be printed, a chemical mixture is applied across the surface of the stone or plate in order to securely bond it. This surface is then dampened with water, which adheres only to the blank, non-greasy areas. Oily printer’s ink, applied with a roller, sticks to the greasy imagery and not to areas protected by the film of water. Damp paper is placed on top of this surface and run through a press to transfer the image. In addition to the traditional method described here, other types of lithography include offset lithography, photolithography, and transfer lithography.

An intaglio printmaking technique that creates thin, fluid lines whose effects can vary from graceful and serpentine to tight and scratchy. An etching needle, a fine-pointed tool, is used to draw on a metal plate that has been coated with a thin layer of waxy ground, making an easy surface to draw though. When the plate is placed in acid, the ground protects the areas it still covers, while the drawn lines expose the plate and are incised, or “bitten,” by the acid. After removing the coating, the plate is inked, filling only the incised lines. Damp paper is placed on the plate and run through a press, forcing the paper into the incised lines to pick up the ink.


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:

    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.