Remembering World War One’s centenary, which began with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand on June 28 1914, The De La Warr Pavilion presents a selection of 19 prints by Otto Dix from his monumental 50 piece series, Der Kreig (The War). A major and rare loan from the Department of Prints & Drawings at the British Museum, the prints are widely acknowledged to be ground-breaking with their stark depictions of Dix’s traumatic experiences on the landscapes of war, and the innovative multiple print-making techniques he employed.
Created within a ten year period after the beginning of WW1, presumably because it was only then that Dix could return to the experiences that he went through in the trenches, the prints were ground-breaking: through the impact of the images that Dix conjured, and also in the unique combination of multiple print-making techniques that he employed.
Gritty and expressive, Der Kreig presents the First World War in shocking close-up – from a soldier speedily consuming a meal in the company of a human skeleton trapped in the frozen mud beside him in Mahlzeit in der Sappe / Mealtime in the Trenches and a grossly disfigured face in Skin Graft / Transplantation, to Durch Fliegerbomben zerstörtes Haus (Tournai) / House destroyed by Aerial Bombs in which Dix has cleaved off the corner of a building to reveal the dead inside. He also realises the more familiar imaginings of war; the transportation of wounded soldiers, the return of battle weary troops from the Front Line, and the suffering of the civilians of Lens as the Allied campaign bombed occupying German forces. Der Kreig and Dix’s other works are often harshly critical of the decadent German society between the Wars.
Die Kreig is modelled on Francisco Goya’s famous series of etchings The Disasters of War, which reflected the horrors of the Napoleonic invasion and the 1808-1814 Spanish War of Independence, and both works use similar etching techniques. Dix achieved his radical portrayals of war by manipulating the corrosive effects of aquatint to imply physical and moral decay, using intaglio etching to create bold prominent outlines for dramatic graphic impact.
When the Nazis came to power, Dix was branded a ‘degenerate’ artist and sacked from his post as an art teacher at the Dresden Academy. His paintings The Trench and War cripples were exhibited in Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) a state-sponsored Munich exhibition of 1937, and later burned.
Dix was profoundly affected by his experiences in the First World War, and created Der Kreig six years later, possibly as a cathartic act. He was awarded the Iron Cross for his services and despite what he endured, returned to fight in the Second World War. He died in Germany 1969.
In De La Warr Pavilion’s Rooftop Foyer exhibition space, a selection of photographs depicting the first 8 months of the First World War provides a counterpoint to Der Kreig. Fred’s War – shot by doctor and amateur photographer Fred Davidson – forms a rare account of the early fighting when cameras were banned and picture takers struggled with the reality of what they were witnessing.
OTTO DIX Der Kreig (The War) The De La Warr Pavilion East Sussex 17 May – 27 July 2014