Art of the Weimar Republic: The German People as Subjects, Part One

PORTRAITURE REBORN

The Likeness as Blank Parody

Portraiture had its greatest days in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries–think of Thomas Gainsborough’s proud aristocrats and of Thomas Romney’s posed nobility–consider the magnificent likenesses by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, whose female sitters wore the most stylish gowns of their time–recall the causal bravura brushwork of John Singer Sargent uplifting the nouveau riche into mortality. One might even consider the merits of a photographic likeness, which, when well done, could be iconic for the subject. But what all these examples have in common is the goal of establishing a place in society. Portraiture was always a joint project, between the artist and the client, in which the pair collaborated on a project of self-fashioning. There was no reason why modern portraiture could not have continued in this vein during the early decades of the twentieth century. In Paris, Tamara de Lempicka, one of the great portrait artists of the century, gave new identities to the displaced aristocrats set adrift by the Great War, living precariously in France. But, in Germany, the question of, indeed, the very need for portraits was in question. After a war which was lost, the nation became a Republic and the long-suppressed demand for socialism emerged and the client base for traditional portraiture, the ruling class, was damaged by defeat and shame. And yet, it was during the Weimar Republic that modern portraiture emerged, shorn of its traditional raison d’être.

Tamara de Lempicka. Portrait Of S.A.I. Grand Duke Gavriil Kostantinovic (1927)

In one of those odd coincidences that remind one of the futility of war, at the Battle of the Somme, there was a gathering of luminous minds and talents, albeit on the opposite sides of no-man’s land. English writers, Siegfried Sassoon, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein faced the German artist, Otto Dix (1891–1969). Another day and another time, these soldiers would have been friends. Dix spent almost ten years after the Great War purging his system of his memories, of his suffering as a soldier while expressing his sympathies towards his fellow veterans. He evolved from the brave patriot who had served his nation honorably to an artist of this new and novel post-war period. The last great painting of his recovery period was Gross Stadt (Metropolis) of 1928 in which Dix shows the Weimar Republic in all of its dubious glories. The work is a triptych, mocking an ecclesiastical altarpiece, which used to reveal religious truths to the illiterate. The truth of Gross Stadt is that life has moved on, leaving the war and its casualties aside. On the left and right panels, the war wounded, still not cared for a decade later, still wearing their uniforms, are begging in the streets. But dogs bark and the crowds pass on with distaste and indifference. The central panel is full of the full-blown cultural explosion that enlivened the dark days of the Republic. One could get lost in the pleasures of a jazz band from America and dance to the music, mingling with an exotic cast of characters. Despite the gravity of his paintings, Dix himself loved to go dancing with his wife and the two were so good with the modern dances that they toyed with the idea of becoming professionals. Clearly, the painting as a whole is an indictment of a careless society which has decided who to throw away–honorable soldiers–and who to celebrate–sexual adventurers and hedonists. The “cast of characters” referred to earlier provide a clue to the future direction of Dix: his self-imposed mission of portraying the new people populating the Weimar Republic.

Otto Dix. Metropolis (1927-28)

In his review of Peter Gay’s seminal book Weimar Culture. The Outsider and Insider, Walter Laquer wrote, “There was no place like Berlin in the 1920’s. The capital of the modern movement in literature and the arts, pioneering in the cinema and theater, in social studies and psychoanalysis, it was the city of “The Threepenny Opera” and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” the cradle of the youth movement and the haven of unheard-of sexual freedom. The Mecca of a whole generation of Isherwoods, it has entered history as the center of a new Periclean age.” As Laquer noted in his 1968 article “Berlin, Brecht, Bauhaus and a Whole Generation of Isherwoods,” the achievements of the culture was not appreciated by the “ordinary” Germans. “The advocates and the enthusiastic followers of this avant-garde movement came from a small unrepresentative layer of German society; left-wing or liberal, largely Jewish, it was concentrated in Berlin and a few other big cities. It had no popular success at the time; in the list of contemporary best sellers one looks in vain for the famous names of the twenties..” In a memorable sentence opening his book, Peter Gay described the Republic in terms of “Its tormented brief life with its memorable artifacts, and its tragic death–part murder, part wasting sickness, part suicide–have left their imprint on men’s minds, often vague perhaps, but always splendid.” Speaking of the remarkable achievements of this post-war wounded world, Gay stated, “But it was a precarious glory, a dance on the edge of a volcano.”

In other words, the outstanding individuals of the Republic, the artists and writers, who fabricated the post-war society, were new people, who, in earlier years, would have been marginalized and on the fringes or even suppressed and locked away in a closet. With non-traditional ethnicities and origins, these strong-minded highly individualistic Berliners came from the middle class where a nice photograph would serve as a family portrait. Otto Dix seemed to have decided to update portraiture, pulling the practice away from gentle flattery and aggrandizement and pushing the exercise towards the period proclivity for “New Objectivity.” The meaning of this umbrella phrase which covers unrelated but like-mind artists brought together in a 1925 exhibition in Mannheim. The director of the Kunsthall, Gustav F. Hartlaub, coined the term “Neue Sachlichkeit” to describe what he saw as a tendency towards a new modern realism that stressed objectivity. But Felix Roh found a term he thought better fit the disconcerting loss of the familiar when ordinary objects were subjected to prolonged scrutiny: “magic realism.” The term, then, was a curator’s creation, designed more to provide an alternative to Expressionism and to hopefully to call attention to a new movement than an attempt to describe a new era or a new way of thinking. Since then art historians have struggled with the translation and its meaning, and a long list of possibilities unfolded. In her book, All Consuming: The Tiller-Effect and the Aesthetics of Americanization in Weimar Photography 1923-1933, Lisa Jaye Young provided some of the scholarship on this topic, with descriptions of “function,” “thingness,” “practical,” “straightforward,” “conceptual rationalism” or “impartial.” In 1927, George Waldemar linked the movement to a particular kind of modernism: “The Neue Sachlichkeit is Americanism, the cult of the objective, the hard fact, the predilection for functional work, professional, conscientiousness, and usefulness.” A few years later, Fritz Schamlenbach, a contemporary of Hartlaub, insisted that the curator was referring to a “mental attitude.”

Dix was a native of the old Baroque of Dresden, where he spent most of his artistic life. Many of his portraits were of the citizens who were his friends and colleagues. But the artist also went to Berlin and lived there from 1925 and 1927 in the cultural capital of the Weimar Republic. How could he not? It was Berlin, not Dresden, that defined the period. In the exhibition catalog, Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s, Sabine Rewald noted that Dix came to Berlin to paint the Weimar Republic as its people. Upon seeing the journalist Sylvia von Harden “when she left the Fomanisches Café, Berlin’s foremost literary hangout, one night in 1926.” “I must paint you,” he shouted because she “represented their era.” Von Harden, a woman, a lesbian and a journalist, a rather aggressive profession but perfect of the New Woman (with a new name), wrote of the encounter she had with the artist who made her famous in 1959, while she was living in England. Dix was fascinated with what Von Harden described as her “dull eyes, ornately adorned earlobes, long nose, thin mouth, long hands, short legs, and large feet..” In her oddities, Sylvia von Harden represented the Neue Frau simply because, as her monocle implied, she made her way in a world hostile to her through the power of her will and her intelligence. Many Germans disapproved of the New Woman, newly liberated after the War. Already emboldened by wartime work, these women began to push into mainstream society, leaving home and all of its domestic comforts behind and granting herself freedom from marriage by using birth control. Crossing her legs like a man, asserting herself in a red-checked dress, von Harden sports an Eton cropped hair cut (bubikopf) and flaunts her large and handsome hands, one of which is wearing a handsome ruby ring and holds a cigarette. She smokes, she drinks and she hangs out at cafés, wears hard red lipstick, accented by her dress the interior of her cigarette case and the corner walls of the bar. The only relief from the sea of red is the white marble table top and the yellow box of matches. Von Harden’s hose are rolled above the knees, just above her skirt, and would be invisible when she stood up, but Dix reveals her well-groomed and well-dressed knees, with a glimpse of a stocking.

Otto Dix. Sylvia von Harden (1926)

Although this is the most famous portrait that Dix made in his efforts to depict the times in which he lived, von Harden is unique in that she is the only respectable New Woman he painted. More often than not, for Dix, the New Woman inhabits the world’s oldest profession, prostitution. These are the women that fascinate Dix, who, like an early twentieth century Toulouse-Lautrec, must have spent a great deal of time in houses of ill repute. The viewer could be excused for concluding that, for Otto Dix, the New Woman was the prostitute, however, with the exception of his wife, all of the women studied by the artist were, by definition, on the margins and the fringes. In a society that regarded women suspiciously, the line that separated von Harden from prostitutes was a thin one. A professional woman, such as von Harden, were perceived as threats, looked up with resentment, as sources of destabilization. In a country where millions of men died, women filled one-third of the jobs in Germany: she was working, he was dead, she was taking a job that “belonged” to the now absent male. But as Dix recognized, these women were victims of the War as well as the men who would never come home or never recover. Many of these women were prostitutes, walking the streets freely and with great visibility because they had no male protector, no father, no brother, no husband. Fresh out of domesticity, forced on their own devices, without sufficient education to own a livelihood, women were soliciting. Had their lives gone the way they planned, these women would have never become prostitutes. It is with these women that Dix ventured into another phase of portraiture, group portraits, but his series of paintings of women who had fallen on hard times becomes an accumulation that coalesced into a critical mass.

Today Otto Dix’s Three Prostitutes (Drei Dirnen auf der Strasse) (1925) is part of a private collection and rarely on public view. In 2014 the Courtauld Institute of Art posted a short article “The Neue Frau and Fashion in Otto Dix’s Three Prostitutes (1925)”, quoting the distrust with which women were viewed in the Weimar Republic:

Thomas Wehrling, a Weimar cultural critic. His essay ‘Berlin is Becoming a Whore,’ first published in Das Tage-Buch in 1920, explicitly aligns women’s interest in fashion and entertainment with moral debasement: “A generation of females has grown up that has nothing but the merchandising of their physical charms in mind. They sit in the parlors, of which there are a dozen new ones every week; they go to the cinema in the evenings, wear skirts that end above the knees, buy Elegant World and the film magazines…The display windows in the delicatessens are filled for these females; they buy furs and shoes at the most-extravagant prices and stream in herds down the Kurfurstendamm on Sunday mornings.”

Otto Dix. Three Prostitutes (1925)

It has been estimated that, after the War, Berlin had at least twenty thousand female prostitutes, who were a common sight. A contemporary publication put the figure at one hundred thousand, possibly an exaggeration born of the sudden openness with which the women plied their trade. As can be seen in Metropolis, Dix portrayed Berlin as a site of prostitution. Like the wounded and crippled soldiers, the women were the visible signs of the cost of War, and their visible blandishments towards their customers, their blatant immorality all signifiers of a society in shreds. It seemed as if everything was for sale and the “RM” inscribed on the shop window which frames the women, like a splendid portrait, indicated the 1924 introduction of the Reich Mark as the new currency for the Republic. The issuing of a new currency resulted in a re-evaluation of the value of money, and investors and those with savings accounts lost money. The hanging female leg clad in a green high heel shoe is hard to decode but its presence in a shop window almost certainly stressed the theme of commodification, condemning the streets as sites of exchange of flesh. Barbara Hales wrote an interesting article “Blond Satan: Weimar Constructions of the Criminal Femme Fatale” in which she related the way in which the female, both the middle-class shopper (the respectable woman) and the lower class commodity (the prostitute) were both representatives of the Americanized consumer society. “The German press often referred to Berlin as a whore..Berlin as sensual metropolis was a dangerous space where crime and death were associated with the prostitute. It was also a space in which money transactions, political struggles, industrial development, and perceived sexual perversions tore at the fabric of traditional bourgeois German society. The prostitute’s body represented this excess and chaos..” The Glitter and Doom catalog essay on the painting noted that many women dressed in an apparently average fashion in order to avoid being conspicuous but the prostitutes carried and wore recognizable items as codes, conveying specialties and services to their alert customers.

With cheerful vulgarity, Dix seized upon these and other telltale details. The prostitute on the right clutches a large, red phallus like umbrella handle that points to the vulva-shaped ornament on her green hat. Her emaciated colleague in the center trails a long transparent red widow’s veil, an accessory that had become a popular trademark of her profession during World War I, grasps a matching red pocketbook, and cups her hand provocatively on her hip, causing one of the straps of her chemise to slip off her shoulder. The older woman holding a tiny, ugly dog on the left has just passed hem; her disapproving smirk still distorts her sharp features. She is identified as a prostitute by little except her red leather gloves, which perhaps signal some special service.

The portraits by Dix of women have all the signs of a man observing women with fear and loathing, a gaze of the man who is both socially powerful and sexually intimidated. According to all accounts, he was also a man who loved his wife who encouraged his career, despite the controversial topics. If we put Dix in his own cultural context, his portraiture is typical of the period. In Germany, the 1920s was a golden age of portrait painting, as many artists, such as Christian Schad, sought to understand modern life in Europe through studies of those who inhabited the most advanced elements of society. None of the portrait painters of the Weimar period attempted to beautify their subjects. In keeping with the sobriquet “objective,” in all its many meanings, Dix was merciless. In some cases, it is possible to compare contemporary photographs of his subjects with his portraits. Working in tandem the same time as Dix, photographer August Sander also found Sylvia von Harden as an interesting representative of modern Germany. Like Dix, Sander focused on intriguing individuals, mostly of the artistic class, and, like Dix, Sander used the group approach to the lower classes.

August Sander. Sylvia von Harden (1920s)

Dix exaggerated the journalist as a character, a player in the theater that was the Weimar Republic, but, at the same time, as with his prostitutes, he captured the mood and feel of uncertain and disruptive times.Sander makes von Harden seem far less noticeable and far more assimilated into society, calling attention to the many shades and moods of “objectivity” as a mode of expression and examination and as a means of cataloging and classifying the people of Germany. In 1927, Dix was offered a job at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden and he returned home, ending his Berlin adventures. Out of an apparently simple genre, portraiture, a number of categories developed in the Weimar Republic. In the next post, the artist George Grosz explored the idea of portraiture as a study of type and as an expression of hate and disgust.

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German Artists in the Aftermath of the Great War, Part Two

AFTER THE GREAT WAR

Otto Dix and the Broken Soldiers

To understand the Treaty of Versailles, everyone should read Magaret MacMillian’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. If reading a very long book on a treaty written one hundred years ago does not sound tempting, Paris 1919 is not so much about a century old past but about the future and the present. In 2007, MacMillian laid out a road map that explained how we got from there to here. A few years earlier, in 2000, historian David Fromkin published, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, which focused on the impact of the Treaty of Versailles and how the new world order came into being, and, for better or worse, created the Middle East we are grappling with to this day. In actions reminiscent of the “Scramble for Africa” in the previous century, France and England proceeded to carve the former Ottoman Empire like a great prostrate turkey between them like the practiced empire builder these nations were. The victors also began to slice off pieces of Germany, while hardly as large as the Middle East, was at least the size of a game bird, tracked down and brought to the kitchen table for dismemberment.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the way in which the Paris Peace Conference mistreated Germany led to the Second World War. The victors, France and England, were in no mood for reason much less mercy; they sought revenge and vengeance. After all, Germany had started the War and after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, victorious Prussia occupied France and forced it to pay reparations. The same fate was the least Germany deserved. The Great War was fought upon a deliberate German policy of bleeding the enemies–France and England–white, never realizing that that very strategy would also unleash a flow of casualties from its own body, which bleed its way to defeat. As MacMillian pointed out early in her book:

Millions of combatants— for the time of massive killing of civilians had not yet come— died in those four years: 1,800,000 Germans, 1,700,000 Russians, 1,384,000 French, 1,290,000 from Austria-Hungary, 743,000 British (and another 192,000 from the empire) and so on down the list to tiny Montenegro, with 3,000 men. Children lost fathers, wives husbands, young women the chance of marriage. And Europe lost those who might have been its scientists, its poets and its leaders, and the children who might have been born to them. But the tally of deaths does not include those who were left with one leg, one arm or one eye, or those whose lungs had been scarred by poison gas or whose nerves never recovered.

For the combatant nations, “recovery” meant that a generation needed to be replaced. For France and England, the loss of those expected to inherit and built upon the foundations of their parents was a devastating trauma. Revenge was not just about the past but about the lost future as well and in 1940 France preferred surrender to a new Germany rather than re-fight the Great War. But in 1919, France was eager to force Germany to pay reparations—132 billion gold marks–that would cripple the fledgling nation and to recover its “lost” territories of Alsace-Lorraine, the site of significant iron ore deposits. Other sections of Germany went to Poland. It should be noted that one nation was absent during this long Conference, Germany, which was confronted in May by the Treaty only when it was written. The nation reacted with shock over the so-called “War Guilt Clause” or clause 231: “The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.” The next clause, 232, demanded reparations which the Allies recognized in writing that the Germans did not have the resources to pay. These two sections alone, coupled with the Treaty’s insistence that Germany have only a small army and no air force, set the stage for the next war.

There are few heroes in this tangled tale, but the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, might have had the best political instincts about how to conclude the Great War. Another prescient participant, the economist John Maynard Keynes, clearly foresaw the economic consequences. In his 2015 book, Britain, France and Germany and the Treaty of Versailles: The Failure of Long-Term Peace, Nick Shepley quoted Keynes, writing in 1920: “The Treaty includes no provision for the economic rehabilitation of Europe–nothing to make the defeated Central Powers into good neighbours, nothing to stabilize the new States of Europe, nothing to reclaim Russia..It is an extraordinary fact that the fundamental economic problem of a Europe starving and disintegrating before their eyes, was the one question in which it was impossible to arouse the interest of the Four. Reparation was their main excursion into the economic field, and they settled it from every point of view except that of economic future of the States whose destiny they were handling.”

Simplissimus (June 3, 1919) This German cartoon was published a few weeks before the Treaty was signed.

We understand today that Woodrow Wilson, a Southern President, was a racist who resisted what was the first demand of the newly organized NAACP–block the release of The Birth of a Nation. Instead, Wilson, along with his friend, the director, D. W. Griffith, screened the film in the White House and endorsed the inflammatory movie. Once shown in theaters, The Birth of a Nation led to a revival of the Klu Klux Klan and allowed racism, never far below the surface, to rise up and bubble over. But, that said, Wilson, a former President of Princeton, was an intellectual visionary who arrived, as the leader of one of the victorious nations, in Paris with a dream of “self-determination.” There were vast territories unleashed when the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian and the German Empires all fell, and Wilson commendably felt that these fledgling “nations” should have the right to determine their own destinies. However, he faced his allies which would have none of his idealism, took what they wanted, and left the remaining territories to their own devices. But Wilson did little to check the mood of vengeance towards Germany and said, a few weeks before the Treaty was signed, “I have always detested Germany. I have never gone there. But I have read many German books on law. They are so far from our views that they have inspired in me a feeling of aversion.” The League of Nations could be said to be Wilson’s consolation prize, but the American also rejected his hopes for a more peaceful future. The United States had never wanted to become entangled in the dark affairs of Europe and pulled back into isolation, leaving Germany to its fate, betraying Wilson’s Fourteen Principles, his proposal for a lasting peace. The world’s largest creditor nation had exited the global stage.

The postcard shows the territories pared away from Germany and Austria by the Treaty. The title of the card reads, “Lost but not forgotten land,” and the poem vows, What we have lost/Will be regained!

The humiliation of Germany by the Allies was complete down to forcing the German delegation to sign the Treaty in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, paralleling the same shame inflicted upon France by the Germans in 1871. To the French people, which had been invaded, its lands wasted when they became the Western Front, these acts of vengeance were they least they could do to their ancient and prone enemy. To the German people, who had been lied to for four years, the surprise at losing the War was as great as the shock of being blamed for the War. They rejected Clause 231, which had established Germany as the aggressor and allowed the allies to demand land and reparations in return. There were reasons for the Germans to be surprised at their loss, for they had never been invaded. But it was the French command that decided that to invade Germany, as the American general John Pershing suggested, would result in needless loss of further French lives. After all, for all intents and purposes, Germany was soundly defeated, and a solution Wilson called “peace without victory” was more sensible. But from the German perspective, what tipped the scales towards surrender were mutinies in the military and political unrest at home. With the nation spiraling out of control and hurtling towards a Russian type revolution, the next move to conserve Germany was to end the war. The inexplicable surrender was never accepted by the German people, who were forced to accept this unexpected defeat and found themselves struggling to rebuild a nation deliberately disarmed and intentionally humiliated.

The Kaiser abdicated and fled to Holland where he would live long enough to see the rise of Hilter and another World War. A socialist Republic, teetering on warring factions that attempted to be a government, was founded with hopes of a democratic Germany. Psychologically wounded and financially destroyed, this new version of Germany made its way into the modern world. Given the unpromising beginnings of the post-War Republic, the Weimar years were marked by a blossoming of the arts in a nation that was in a constant state of turmoil until the Nazi party seized power and snuffed out the renaissance of creativity out of the ashes. Dada was an important Berlin expression of the collective anger and disgust of the intelligentsia with the German plunge into a destructive war, but, as a viable movement, Dada could not exist for long. Therefore, for the purposes of this series on post-War Germany, it is convenient to divide the post-War art into two parts: the immediate response to the aftermath of the War, Dada, and the art of the very soldiers who had witnessed its horrors; and then, some years later, the art that emerged, called “New Objectivity” or the artistic reaction to the culture of the Weimar Republic.

Stormtroopers during a gas attack, from Der Krieg (1924)

In his book, German Post-Expressionism: The Art of the Great Disorder 1918-1924, Dennis Crockett made something of the same case. There is a short period, coinciding with Dada, in which artists were using the pre-war style of Expressionism. Those Expressionists artists who returned from the War regrouped and, as with Cubism in France, Expressionism went from being a radical challenge to the establishment to a historical and accepted artistic style. Leading artists, Oskar Kokoschka, Otto Mueller, and others, became teachers in German academies and museums began collecting Expressionist works and filmmaker began incorporating the mood and feelings of the artists into their sets and stories. As Crockett noted,

Expressionism seemed to have become fashionable..The debate regarding the vitality of Expressionism reached its peak with the largest Expressionist exhibition to date during the summer of 1920. German Expressionism Darmstadt, arranged by the Darmstadt Secession, included 673 works by artists from all over Germany. In his lecture at the opening of the exhibition, president of the Secession, Kasimir Edschmid..condemned the superficial and commercial aspects of Expressionism: “What once seemed a daring gesture has today become ordinary. The advance of the day before yesterday became the mannerism of yesterday and the yawn of today..In a lecture delivered in Munich in October 1920, Wilhelm Worringer, one of the most distinguished Expressionist theorists before the war, added his voice to the eulogizing of Expressionism. He too criticized the many pseudo-Expressionists, “who know nothing about art.” But he observed a crisis of greater historical importance. According to Worringer, art had lost any sociological function it may have had before the modern era..Expressionism’s loss of vitality, its disintegration into “peaceful wall decorations,” represented for Worringer not only the death of Expressionist art, but the death of art itself.”

The question at the end of a war and the beginning of a peace was one of an appropriate language for the arts. On one hand, Expressionism was understood, quite rightly, to be part of a time that had come and gone. But on the other hand, Expressionism was, perhaps, for a brief time, the best style to explain the war and its consequences.

The constant bombing turned the landscape into lunar craters, from Der Krieg (1924)

One of those soldiers who returned haunted by what he had experienced was Otto Dix (1891-1969) and the series of prints he made of life in the trenches needed the excess that was such an important element of pre-war Expressionism. His memories of his time as a machine gunner during the four years of the war were turned into a Goya-esque sequence of fifty prints, titled The War (Der Krieg). This series is graphic and horrific, without color, drained of life, printed out in the black and white of engrained memory and dark dreams. Dix was an unimpeachable source and entitled to show to the German public that which the authorities were attempting to deny: he had been wounded five times and was awarded the Iron Cross in 1915. His was a voice that could neither be silenced nor denied.

Germany both invented gas warfare and launched the first attacks in 1916, but soon their soldiers also became victims, from Der Krieg (1924)

In writing A War of Images: Otto Dix and the Myth of the War Experience, Ann Murray wrote of how Dix defied the nationalistic ideals for the Germanic male, images that began to emerge as part of a propaganda effort to deny the outcome of the war. As she wrote,

Dix challenged the popular, romanticizing imagery of the heroic, militarized male, his pictures tracking attempts to nullify the mythologizing of the war experience that pervaded popular media..In 1924, Dix exhibited his cycle of etchings, The War, for the first time in Berlin. Based largely on the artist’s numerous wartime drawings..as a unit they form a pictorial record of the daily trials of the frontline soldier, recording the close contact and intimate knowledge of the subject that only one who had experienced war could hope to achieve. The catalogue produced for the launch of the series contained a foreword written by French pacifist writer and fellow veteran, Henri Barbusse, with whose novel, Under Fire (1916), Dix associated his etchings. The historical moment, the tenth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, the so-called ‘anti-war’ year, when furious debates between Left and Right on social and political issues directly related to the consequences of the war reached a peak, was crucial to the exhibition’s message.

Corpses could not be buried and the dead and the living co-existed in the trenches, from Der Krieg (1924)

Given that Dix was a patriot who volunteered and fought bravely for four years, his series was not necessarily anti-war but it was definitely pro-reality when it came to the actual conditions of the War. As he explained in 1963, “I had to experience how someone beside me suddenly falls over and is dead and the bullet has hit him squarely. I had to experience that quite directly. I wanted it. I’m therefore not a pacifist at all – or am I? Perhaps I was an inquisitive person. I had to see all that myself. I’m such a realist, you know, that I have to see everything with my own eyes in order to confirm that it’s like that. I have to experience all the ghastly, bottomless depths of life for myself.”

An all too common sight made into a still life, from Der Krieg (1924)

War was a testimony of an eye witness, and the viewer should understand each image as the truth, based on sketches the artist had executed in the trenches. As shall be seen in the next post, Dix, a veteran, was disturbed by the way in which the wounded and maimed soldiers were treated in post-war Germany, where they lived, not as heroes, but as pathetic reminders of defeat. The public wanted to look the other way, and it was Dix who made them remember and, perhaps, feel some pity and responsibility. Even though Dix faced an audience increasingly reluctant to recognize the costs of the war and the sufferings of those who had fought, a decade later, these prints were still potent. It had been one hundred years since Goya’s Disasters of War, but in the time of Hitler, Dix’s War was confiscated and not viewed by the public again until 1983.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

[email protected]

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

[email protected]

German Artists in the Aftermath of the Great War, Part One

AFTER THE GREAT WAR

Artists in Germany:

George Grosz and John Heartfield in Dada

Georg Groß was so horrified at the idea of doing his patriotic duty for the Kaiser and country that he went quite mad. The idea of descending into the hellish landscape of what would be called “The Great War” was unsupportable and he proved to be a man who could not be turned into a soldier. Faced with the choice of shooting him or releasing him, the German Army eventually released the artist. In his biography, written in the 1950s, the artist, who renamed himself as “George Grosz” to shake off his German identity, recalled his militaristic Prussian upbringing in Pomerania. His school years were laced with beatings, or what Grosz called ‘the approved principles of education,” and, predictably he was expelled from his school. Along the way, he gathered up a catch-as-catch-can education as an artist in Dresden, Berlin, and Paris. These adventures of a young man were interrupted by the War. “..my fate had made an artist of me, not a soldier. The effect the war had on me was totally negative.” Instead of being flooded with the so-called enthusiasm or steeled by a sense of duty, Grosz was filled with disgust. He wrote, “Belief? Ha! In what? In German heavy industry, the great profiteers? In our illustrious generals? Our beloved Fatherland?” He continued, “What I saw filled me with disgust and contempt for people.” These sentiments of distaste for humanity would guide the attitudes and art of George Grosz for the rest of his life.

Like many young men, Grosz had enlisted, but he quickly turned against the War, which, after a promising beginning quickly devolved into a stalemate. Like many of these young men, he had interrupted his new career as an artist, cobbled together from studies in Dresden at the Art Academy, a school that was part of the Museum of Applied Arts in Berlin, and a stay in Paris. From these solid beginnings in art schools, Grosz honed his abilities as an observer, carrying a sketchbook with him, jotting down all that caught his quick eye. As one might expect of a young man, who had been expelled from school, the military life did not agree with him. The tumultuous years in uniform were paused when Grosz was sent on a leave or a furlough in 1916. It is at this time that he met his lifelong friend and artistic collaborator, Helmut Herzfeld who would change his name that year to “John Heartfield” to protest the war machine. Heartfield and his brother Wieland Herzfelde (who later added the letter “e” on the end) were admirers of the left-wing pacifists, Karl Liebknecht, leader of the Spartacus League, and Rosa Luxemburg, political figures, who were later murdered during the uneasy post-war Weimar Republic. As a follower of these leaders, Heartfield also became a pacifist, and he and Grosz were united in their hatred of German nationalism, which was being pushed forward to justify the war and to bolster the “spirit of ’14.” After Georg became “George” and Groß became “Grosz,” both Heartfield and Grosz found new identities as political artists and as social critics. But being against the war did not prevent Grosz being recalled to the Army, and his reactions to confinement within the military structure became more intense. The Army put him in a military mental asylum, but Grosz was rescued from a firing squad by Count Harry Kessler, an important supporter of avant-garde art. The artist was finally discharged in 1917, declared to be “permanently unfit.”

Having seen too much of the War and its grotesque horrors, Grosz was filled with rage. This intense anger permeated his early paintings, which look like circles of Hell as imagined by Dante. The paintings glow as if populated with fiery coals glowing in a swirling darkness of fear. Structures collapse into a reddened center, a glowing vortex that sucks everything into its baleful center. Explosion was typical of the paintings Grosz made during the War depicting cities in chaos, desperate people, running for their lives, as though he fantasized the consequences of the conflict that Germany began being visited upon the people who supported the Kaiser and his aggressive invasion of Belgium and France. Ironically, Germany would never be invaded during the Great War; its capital would remain untouched, and yet the war was lost. The self-imposed task of Grosz was to shake off the remnants of Expressionism and take up a more precise style, devoid of emotion, better suited to the shock of defeat and humiliation and the consequences of ill-starred War.

George Grosz. Explosion (1917)

After the War ended, Grosz who was primarily a drawer, more comfortable with pen and ink than with brush and paint, joined a like-minded group of artists as angry as he, inspired by the Dada phenomenon in Zurich. Berlin Dada, like all of the Dada movements, was short-lived but provided an important post-war outlet that allowed German artists to react to the difficulties of adjusting to being defeated after a long and grinding war. The city had been abandoned by the government, which fled the turmoil of competing factions, from unemployed soldiers, dangerous Freikorps, and Communists seeking their chance to seize control of the vacuum left by the abdication of the Kaiser. The government moved out of range of the street violence and settled into the small town of Weimar, hoping to stabilize a nation stunned and starving. As was pointed out in earlier posts, the Kaiser’s regime had systematically lied to the people, who were convinced, despite the fact that they were beings starved by the blockade of their coast by the Royal Navy, they were winning. Once the truth of the failure of the last-ditch Ludendorff Offensive, thought to be a success, came to light, and the army collapsed and the navy mutinied, the German people were shocked. By the time Berlin Dada came together, the German people were living under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, a punitive document which would cripple the recovery of the nation. The Weimar government could not cope with the needs of the desperate citizens, and it seemed that the only people who had come out of the war unscathed were the war profiteers.

As Dada artist, Richard Huelsenbeck, pointed out, “There is a difference between sitting quietly in Switzerland and bedding down on a volcano, as we did in Berlin.” John Heartfield and George Grosz had created a unique and potent weapon to critique the failures of Germany–the photomontage–a combination of collaged images and typography, appropriated lettering. Later Grosz said that the pair had “..invented photomontage in my South End studio at five o’clock on a May morning in 1916, neither of us had any inkling of its great possibilities, nor of the thorny yet successful road it was to take. As so often happens in life, we had stumbled across a vein of gold without knowing it.”

Grosz and Heartfield. Page Four from Neue Jugen (New Youth) (June 1917)

There has been a dispute over who “invented” photomontage, Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Höch or Heartfield and Grosz, but the practice of altering photographs had been practiced by the German propaganda machine to falsify information and to mislead the public. The Dada artists were merely taking up a practice of lies and using it to tell unpleasant truths. The mood was anti-personal and anti-expressionist. Cutting and pasting from anonymous sources and turning the media against itself suited the purposes of the Dada artists in Berlin. Heartfield, for example, considered himself to be an engineer and called himself “monteur.” In his 2012 book, John Heartfield and the Agitated Image: Photography, Persuasion, and the Rise of Avant-Garde Photomontage, Andrés Mario Zervigón referred to what he termed the “agitated image” produced by Heartfield in which the photomontages, composed of borrowed photographs, which were assumed to be tellers of the truth, but, under the Kaiser’s government, were forced to tell lies. The collaborations of Heartfield and Grosz produced photomontages as vehicles for a trenchant criticism of a social system in a meltdown. The two years between their collaborative work at their journal and the Dada collage ironically titled “Sunny Land,” shows a significant growth and development of their play with images and text. The early sprawl has coalesced into coherence, which is expressed with a chaotic assemblage.

Grosz and Heartfield. Sonniges Land (1919)

There is an intensity of frantic motion in the joint work of the collaborating artists that was absent from the more structured and legible work of Haussmann and the sense of “agitation” is approached only occasionally by Höch. Life and Times in Universal City at 12.05 Noon, 1919 on the left and Dada-merika on the right are dense and thick with layered dis-ease, symptomatic of a struggling Republic. As Heartfield warned, as a Dada artist, he was prepared to go to war with “..scissors and cut out all that we require from paintings and photographic representations.”

Even though Grosz and Heartfield both worked with photomontage in the early years of the Weimar Republic, their paths would diverge. Heartfield would remain with his collage critiques, becoming the consummate gadfly on the government, and Grosz would torment the authorities with cruel caricatures of a German people at their worst. Violence is always lurking beneath the surface of the works by the Dada artists in the 1920s, and as the installation of the First Dada Messe in Berlin in 1920 suggested, the rage had become an internalized attitude deliberately created by the military which taught its soldiers to kill and maim. No matter how much Grosz and his Dada colleagues mocked the Prussian mentality, the artists who returned from the battlefield had absorbed the lessons provided in the trenches. It is possible that today these suffering souls would be diagnosed as with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, whether or not they had seen active service. The entire nation was reeling from a severe blow and was uncertain of its future, and even the past had suddenly become unknowable. The grounds for truth had been dissolved and with it a possible historical discourse that would allow the country to come to terms with its fate. In light of the condition of Germany in 1920, the use of the word “Fair” to describe the assaulting exhibition in a Berlin gallery owned by Dr. Otto Burchard (an unlikely host, given that he was an expert in Song Chinese ceramics) was entirely mocking. A less joyous environment could hardly be imagined. Despite the obvious rebellious aspects to the exhibition, the show had a very respectable catalog with a cover by John Heartfield and the text written by Heartfield and his brother, Hertzfelde. The introduction named George Grosz as the “Marshal,” Haussmann the “Dadasopher” and Heartfelt the “Monteurdada.”

The invitation to the Messe was hardly welcoming, stating that “The Dadaistic person is the radical opponent of exploitation; the logic of exploitation creates nothing but fools, and the Dadaistic person hates stupidity and loves nonsense! Thus, the Dadaistic person shows himself to be truly real, as opposed to the stinking hypocrisy of the patriarch and to the capitalist perishing in his armchair.”

All of the major artists of Berlin Dada were present at the opening of the provocative Messe. The earlier presentation of Dada works in Cologne, Dada Vorfrühling, which had forced the attendees to step over a urinal placed at the entrance, set the nihilistic tone. The exhibition was a deliberate parody of a decorous academic art salon with the crowded and disorderly dis-arrayed works of art covering walls peppered with phrases about Dada–“Nieder die Kunst,” “Dilettanten, erhebt euch gegen die Kunst.” However, as Weiland Herzfelde explained in his “Introduction to the First International Art Fair,” the show of “Dada products” was also an attack on the art market, with the intent of jolting the public’s idea of “taste” as the reliable guide to purchase, even though all of the “products” (Erzeugnisse)were for sale.

Hausmann and Höch, who is sitting down, chatting with Dr. Burchard, while Baader, Herzfelde, Margarete Herzfelde, Schmallhausen face the opposite direction on the right and George Grosz sits with his with hat and cane near Heartfield

One of the most unexpected “products” was a “sculpture” titled Prussian Archangel, with a placard reading, “I come from Heaven, from Heaven on high.” The “on high” referred not to heaven but to the ceiling and, to the audience, the words would have been familiar, coming from a well-known German Christmas carol. The sign dangling from the Angel’s uniform was a solider’s complaint: “In order to understand this work of art completely, one should drill daily for twelve hours with a heavily packed knapsack in full marching order in the Tempelhof Field,” and the pig’s snout on the face of the officer was an act of contempt by former soldiers. The “sculptors,” John Heartfield and Rudolf Schlichter had succeeded in indicting the Prussian mindset as being responsible for the deliberate slaughter on the battlefields. A recreation of the floating sculpture can only approximate the effect upon the public which had been taught to revere the military. The reverence allowed the leaders themselves to elide the blame for the loss of the Great War and point a finger at those who had stabbed the army in the back–the Jews.

The Weimar authorities, as might be expected, were not amused by the artistic antics, and the artists were charged with defaming one of the few intact institutions left after the War, the German military. The artists were eventually acquitted but they were hardly the only ones to criticize the military and its post-war conduct. After the War, the soldiers, who had fought for their Kaiser and their nation, were abandoned by the people. Disabled veterans, human soldiers who had been changed to cyborgs, could be seen everywhere on the streets, begging. Otto Dix, a decorated soldier, was on hand with a painting that subsequently disappeared, War Cripples (45% Fit for Service) one of four paintings the artist executed featuring newly mechanized bodies in 1920. George Grosz and John Heartfield also contributed their recreation of the new unnatural beings with an assemblage of manufactured parts. The name of this sculpture, reconstructed in 1988 as part of a larger reconstruction of the original Messe is long and arduous: Der wildgewordene Spiesser Heartfield. Elektro-mecanische Tatlin-Plastik (Le Petit Bourgeois Heartfield devenu fou. Sculpture Tatline électro-mécanique). Like the painting by Dix, this object was completed in 1920 and in English means, The Middle-Class Philistine Heartfield Gone Wild (Mechanical Tatlin Sculpture.) In keeping with the primitive means with which wounded men were reconstructed, the humanoid was re-made of a tailor’s dummy, a revolver, a doorbell, a knife, a fork, the letter “C” and the number “27” sign, plaster dentures, an embroidered insignia of the Black Eagle Order on a horse blanket, an Osram light bulb, the Iron Cross, stand or a base for the mannequin, and what is described as “other objects.”

Working alone, Grosz produced a photomontage with a similar theme, a man turned into a mechanical apparatus in the frantic efforts to put the scattered pieces of shattered people together again.

George Grosz. Remember Uncle August, the Unhappy Inventor. Ein Opfer der Gesellschaft (1919)

The “Unhappy Inventor” referred to the defaced oil portrait of Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Weimar Republic. The reconstruction/deconstruction of the President referred to the impossibility of holding competing factions together. As the head of the Social Democrats under the Kaiser, Ebert attempted to support the government but his party did not have enough power to force Germany to negotiate a peace and avoid a terrible defeat. During the War, the competing parties, including Ebert’s own and the Catholic Center Party and the Democratic (or Progressive) Party joined to form the Black-Red-Gold coalition in reference to the colors of the flag flown during the failed liberal revolutionary uprising of 1848. After the War Ebert established a coalition government of which he was the president, but the foundations of this fragile unity were unstable. The Communists had peeled off years earlier, and Prussia refused to join the new Germany, while the Freikorps organized to defeat the Communists. The Weimar Republic, then, was put together as precariously as a photomontage, without a strong center to hold the factions together. The Black-Red-Gold union was defeated in 1920, a year after Grosz completed the “portrait” that predicted the internal disunion of a collaged and dismembered government. The government, the society and the culture of Germany that gave violent birth to Berlin Dada was chopped up, amputated, and pieced together with tenuous joints.

Otto Dix. War Cripples (45% Fit for Service) (1920)

In examining the complete context of the early years of the Weimar Republic, during which the pieced together soldier now the detritus of a lost War, was all too present, it becomes obvious that there is a connection between the emergence of photomontages and the cyborg that had come to inhabit Berlin. As Matthew Brio pointed out in The Dada Cyborg. Visions of the New Human in Weimar Berlin, the word “cyborg” did not exist in 1920 but the concept of “..the cyborg as a figure of modern hybrid identity, was central to the practices of the Berlin Dada artists.” He continued, “Thus, when the Berlin Dadaists presented the cyborg as representing a new form of hybrid modern “identity,” they were influenced by a wide variety of conceptual systems already in place in their culture that modeled subjectivity as cyborgian, that is, as systematic, constructed, and mutable. Although the theoretical systems that various cultural practitioners cited in their works were different (as were their degrees of access to the same cultural systems), they were all fundamentally engaged with reimagining what it meant to be human in the modern world.” In this new world, a Germany without a modern identity, men without their original bodies, lacking a wholeness and offered only an incomplete hybridity, the bits and pieces of photos, and the montages of words and blizzards of letters were the legible entities of the Weimar Republic.

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Podcast 53: Nazi Art, Part One

THE OXYMORON OF NAZI “ART”

Long sequestered and rarely viewed, recent art historical writings have begun to examine the art of Fascism. This series of podcasts, in four parts, attempts to answer a series of questions: what were the goals of Nazi art, who were the Nazi artists—the painters and sculptors—and what was the impact of Nazi art? The first segment will examine the aesthetic ideology of the Nazis and how they attacked avant-garde Modernist art in a series of exhibition of “degenerate” art.

 

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Remember that you must download iBooks on your iPad or iPhone.

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

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Art History Timeline Videos

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are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

Podcast 52: Otto Dix—The War Protester

THE GERMAN ARTISTS BETWEEN THE WARS, PART ONE

OTTO DIX

In the period between World War I and World War II, Otto Dix dedicated his art to demonstrating with frank brutality the cost of war. While George Grosz leveled his attacks on self-satisfied bureaucrats, Dix concentrated on those who had borne the brunt of the Great War—the wounded and maimed veterans and the women lost to prostitution.

 

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are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad or iPhone.

Remember that you must download iBooks on your iPad or iPhone.

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

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are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

New Objectivity in German Art

New Objectivity

New Theories of Painting in Germany, 1920s

The Great War ended with the notorious Treaty of Versailles, a treaty, which inflicted humiliating reparations upon the German peoples, leaving them with feelings of despair and anger and a stunned disbelief. Germany had not been invaded, Berlin had not fallen, there had been no victory parades by the allies down the wide expanse of the Unter den Linden—so how could the war have been lost? The fact that there were few young and fit men left to fight was not nearly as resonant as the notion that somehow Germany had been sold out. Instead of fighting on, the reasoning went, powerful forces negotiated with the allies and made a peace that the German people would never have wanted. Just who was responsible for this horrifying turn of events was unclear but the favorite theory was that the Jews were responsible for the defeat.

Regardless of why Germany lost the war, the Kaiser went into exile and a new Republic, based in the university city of Weimer, was formed. The Weimer Republic emerged after the November Revolution of 1918 and presided over one of the most brilliant creative periods of artistic activity of the century. A weak and divided government, riven with clashing factions, uprisings, assassinations and economic chaos, nevertheless held the country together until the final victory of Nazi rule in 1933. Had Charles Dickens been writing of this tumultuous period he surely would have repeated, “It was the best of times and the worst of times.” On one hand, the streets of major German cities were marked by the presence of disabled and maimed veterans, desperate women, prostituting themselves in order to earn a living, businessmen grown fat with profiteering, and disaffected malcontents of all kinds. But, on the other hand, in the face of the adversity and the corruption and downright decadence, especially in Berlin, this city became the mecca for what was left of the avant-garde as a provocative protest movement.

It was noted in an earlier posts that first, the avant-garde impetus had been quelled in Paris by the sentiments of Recall to Order and second, that Surrealism was a conservative movement that went inward into the subconscious. The innovative impulse shifted to literature and jazz. Because the history of art in the twentieth century has been largely a formalist one, the avant-garde in Berlin was often neglected due to its insistence on representation. But it was here in Berlin that painting became confrontational to the point of artists being censored and put on trial by the government. It was here in Berlin that a tired and discredited Expressionism migrated into a thriving and exciting film industry nurturing the talents of Fritz Lang. It was here in Berlin that the concept of “theater” was severed from its connection to illusionism through the work of Bertold Brecht. It was here that German philosophy reinvented itself for a modern era based upon mass communication in the writings of Walter Benjamin. And it was here that the visual arts had an unexpected and unprecedented flowering as a “New Objectivity.”

As a counterweight to the Expressionist romanticism and internalized and dramatized subjectivity, German artists, disillusioned and sickened by the carnage of the Great War, turned towards an art that was clear and clean, objective and cool, utilitarian and functional—a “New Objectivity.” As painter Ludwig Meidner said in 1919, “What will matter tomorrow, what I and all the others need, is a fanatical, fervent naturalism.” “Naturalism,” “realism,” and the increasingly heard phrase, “rappel à l’ordre,” were the key words of the era. The new path towards representation, or to be accurate, the use of representation to recreate an imagine “reality” had already been evident with the Italian movement, Pitture Metafisica and the works of Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà as early as 1917, and by the artists of the Novecento group (Achille Funi, Mario Sironi, Udaldo Oppi, Felice Castoraati), founded in Milan in 1922. The Italian magazine, Valori Plastici supported the return of neoclassicism, combined with traditional realism and mixed together to provide a taste of dreams. But in Germany, this new objective approach to art had a particular urgency. The representation of reality had to take a different path. The truth had to be told. If artists simply reveled the true state and conditions of everyday life, then the nation would never again be misled into another futile, life-wasting war.

While Italian artists were reacting to the chaos of Futurism which evolved into Fascism, the German artists were responding to the end of the War with a mixture of cynicism and hope for a better future and focused their goals on the obtainable ones of the here and now. The result of the new scrutiny of the everyday, whether pleasant or unpleasant, was a movement located and named in 1922 by Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub, the director of the Kunstalle in Mannheim, who sent out a survey inquiring as to whether there is “Ein neuer Naturalismus?” In May, 1923 he began informing his fellow art critics of the new exhibition he was planning to form under the title of Neue Sachlichkeit in Mannheim. Hartlaub arranged the artists of this new movement into bipolar groups: the conservative, classical right wing and the truth-telling Verist group on the left that came to the New Objectivity from Dada and Expressionism. Hartlaub’s exhibition in 1925 was paired by a book on Post-Expressionism and Magic Realism by Franz Roh. Writing in Nach-Expressionismus – magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten europäisches Malerei, Roh coined the term “magic realism.”

Although “magic realism” was almost immediately adapted by Latin American writers for their own purposes, Roh described the term as being deeply rooted in “objects.” Roh stated,

“We will indicate here, in a cursory way, the point at which the new painting separates itself from Expressionism by means of its objects…it resorts to the everyday and the commonplace for the purpose of distancing it, investing it with a shocking exoticism…if a picture portrayed a city, for example, it represented the destruction produced by volcanic lava and not just a play of forms the booty of an agitated cubism…We recognize this world, although now—not only because we have emerged from a dream—we look on it with new eyes…we are offered a new style that is thoroughly of this world, that celebrates the mundane…instead of the remote horrors of hell, the inextinguishable horrors of our own time (Grosz and Dix)…”

Roh seems to veer toward some of the ideas offered by Dada when he uses the term “convulsive life,” but he was actually looking back to the long traditions in German art of imbuing ordinary objects with meaning, a kind of symbolic knowledge, and the heritage of extreme expressionism as a mechanism for telling the truth, no matter how terrible. The Isenheim Altarpiece comes to mind, and Roh states,

“…the new art does not belong to the series of initial artistic phases that includes Expressionism. It is a moment of decantation and clarification that was fortunate enough to find right at the start an almost exhausted artistic revolution that had begun to discover new avenues…Post-Expressionism sought to reintegrate reality into the heart of visibility. The elemental happiness of seeing again, or recognizing things, reenters. Painting becomes once again the mirror or palpable exteriority.”

Despite the strength of the new movement, few galleries and art dealers in Berlin, Herwarth Walden’s Sturm Galerie and the galleries of Bruno Cassirer and Alfred Flechtheim were not particularly interested in the emerging art style. Only the gallery Neumann-Nierendorf, run by Karl Nierendorf, favored New Objectivity. As examination of the art by the New Objectivity artists quickly reveals that there would be few buyers for art that brutally depicted the ugliness of the world of prostitutes and their customers, Otto Dix, or the attack on ineffectual bureaucrats, George Grosz, or the decadence of the upper classes in Berlin, Christian Schad and Max Beckman, not to mention the fevered murder scenes of Rudolf Schlichter and the paintings of torture and torment by Max Beckmann. These artists constructed a portrait of an era that blazed up and was quickly doused by the icy waters of the Nazis. And yet, it is these paintings that come to mind when one says the words “Weimer Republic.” The portraits of Otto Dix appear throughout the film, Cabaret, and the metamorphosis of George Grosz to a war dissenter to a Dada agitator to a scathing critic of the inept regime to an exile in New York, waiting for the end of Hitler, tell the story of these “best of times, worst of times.”

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Podcast 39 Painting 5: Art Between the Wars

Art Between the Wars

Although art history usually passes over this inter-war period quickly, pausing only for Dada and Surrealism, these decades were significant for the continued development of painting. After decades of avant-garde art, Europeans began to consolidate the innovations and inventions of the new century. While the art scene in Paris returned to conservative market-based art, the experimental mind-set shifted to Berlin, the new capital of art between the wars.

 

[email protected]

Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]