After nearly dying many times over while fighting for Germany in World War I at the Somme and on the Eastern Front against Russia, Otto Dix had more than his fill of war. Born December 2, 1891, Dix must have laughed at the absurdity of the Iron Cross he received after witnessing such carnage. Nightmares in which he crawled through endless ruins haunted his nights. Taking that laughter and those nightmares, Dix helped found the new German post-war style Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity. Along with George Grosz, Dix cast a clear eye on the horrors of war and its effect on society in such works as Storm Troopers Advancing under Gas (above), one of the series of etchings and aquatints Dix published as The War in 1924. The monstrous nature of these soldiers in their gas masks rushing towards death captures perfectly Dix’s view of the vanity and stupidity of war.
Emulating the triptych style of the middle ages, Dix began painting his own triptychs, such as Metropolis (above, from 1927). Dix paints himself in the left-hand panel as a crippled soldier returning from the trenches. In the center, healthy patrons of a nightclub dance the night away, blithely unaware of the physical and psychological cost paid by men such as Dix. The decadence of the Weimar Republic days glares like neon in these images, especially in the right-hand panel, where a series of modishly clad women file past without a second glance a legless veteran begging for help. With several other artists who survived the trenches, Dix formed a traveling exhibition titled No More War! that included photos he had taken of soldiers disfigured in the conflict. In everything he did, Dix tried to hold up a mirror to German society and show it the horror of war before it made that mistake again.
Dix painted another triptych in 1932, titled Trench Warfare (central panel above). With its imagery of soldiers torn apart and nightmare landscapes of destruction, Dix’s Trench Warfare struck a nerve in a Germany turning to Fascism and the Nazis and readying to launch another world war. Trench Warfare had to be hidden behind a curtain the few times it was exhibited. Adolf Hitler especially loathed Dix’s work, feeling it sapped the will of the German people to go to war, and placed him high on the long list of “Degenerate Art” he wanted wiped from the face of the earth. The Nazis actually arrested Dix in 1939, charging him with plotting to kill Hitler, but released him later. At the end of World War II, as the Nazis conscripted every warm body into their failing war effort, they forced Dix to fight again for Germany. After the war, Dix returned to his native Dresden, ravaged by the infamous firebombing, and spent the rest of his days painting religious works allegorizing the suffering he had now seen twice visit his country. Otto Dix brought the truth about war out of the trenches and into the light of day, thrusting it before the eyes of an ignorant world that refused and still refuses to see.