dix, skat players, 1920

 

New Objectivity was the art style that emerged in Germany in the Post World War One era of the 1920’s and lasted until the early 1930’s.  This art style ended with the beginning of Hitler’s regime.  This style of painting reflected the disillusionment and protest in Germany after the war had ended.  Many of the paintings done in this style portrayed the negative aspects in life found in Germany after the war.   While New Objectivity still contained some of the strong emotional aspects of earlier German art, it lost the symbolism of expressionism reflecting how the artist felt about what was happening in society.[1]  In other words, the German art done during the period of New Objectivity still contained symbolism for social criticism but unlike earlier expressionist paintings, the symbolism was less distorted and easier for the viewer to notice.  Otto Dix’s painting Skat Players (1920) is a prime example of the style of New Objectivity because he criticizes the post World War I state of Germany with vivid imagery while abandoning the expressionistic qualities found in German art prior to this movement.

The painting portrays three wounded World War One veterans playing cards on a table outside.  The soldiers are extremely disfigured and have many implements used to help the disabled during this period.[2]   The tube protruding from the right ear of the man on the left was a device that was used to aid the hearing impaired in these days.[3]  The soldier on the left is also using his one remaining leg to hold up his hand of cards since he has no arms.  Two of the soldiers are fitted with prosthetic jaws. The soldier on the right-hand side has a prosthetic jaw upon which Otto Dix inscribed, “lower jaw prosthesis brand Dix,” along with a picture of a man that may have been Dix himself.[4]

Wounded and disfigured soldiers were a common sight on the streets of post war Germany.   The soldier on the right-hand side of the painting is wearing a jacket that was made out of the thick woven paper that was used by Germans for clothing after the war due to the shortage of supplies available in Germany.[5]  Otto Dix demonstrates the disgust he felt towards the effects of the war on his country and his own personal experiences as a German machine gunner, where he was wounded on several different occasions.[6]  It has also been proposed that Dix may have been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to his experiences in the war.  He is documented as having had terrible nightmares after he returned from the war.[7]

The soldiers in this painting are seated, playing cards in what appears to be a café.  I believe Dix painted them partaking in this activity to show that, because of the disfigurements they received during the war, they were forced to be idle and not able to be productive citizens in society. It is also possible that Dix painted the ex-soldiers playing cards to illustrate that because they were injured, they were no longer able to participate in other nighttime activities popular in Germany such as dancing or visiting bars.  They were removed from many aspects of society because of the injuries that they received. We can tell that the painting is done at nighttime due to the lighted street lamp in the background.  Otto Dix might have portrayed the soldiers during this time of day as a reflection of the poor economic situation in which Germany found itself during the post World War One era.  The German economy was in a bad place and many people were very poor due to the sanctions imposed on the country at the Treaty of Versailles, which signaled the end of World War One.  Germany was not allowed to participate in the formation of this treaty and many economic sanctions were placed on the country as punishment for starting the war.  As a result of these sanctions, the German economy suffered tremendously and many Germans became very poor. The streetlight also has the image of what appears to be a skull on it.  This could have been Dix’s representation of all the soldiers that died during the war looking down on their fellow countrymen.

The main focal point and subjects of this painting is the three soldiers.  While all the other objects in the painting seem to be simply painted without Dix having paid very much attention to detail, such as the chairs that the men are sitting on and the table, Dix seems to have spent a great deal of time and focus on the faces of the three soldiers.  The soldier’s faces are painted in great detail and contain many shadows and disfigurements.  Their bodies are contorted into very strange and seemingly uncomfortable positions that do not seem natural at all.  All three of these men are missing hair on their heads.  The left side of the middle soldiers moustache is full and bushy while the right side contains only a few scraggly hairs.  The lack of hair on the faces and heads of these men could have possibly been burnt off in the war and may no longer be able to grow because of the injuries that they sustained.

By painting Skat Players, Dix was portraying his feelings about the state of Germany in the period directly following World War I.  He portrayed the fate of many war veterans and showed how their lives were changed by the war.  The symbolism in his painting reflects the sordid state of affairs in Germany and the painting is an example of New Objectivity.

 

 

Bibliography

Hermann, Ingo. Biography. Otto Dix. Edited by Olaf Peters. New York: Prestel, 2010.

 

Horsley, Carter. Neue Gallerie Museum of German and Austrian Art, “Art/Museums:        Arcadia and Metropolis Masterworks of German Expressionism From the      National Gallerie Berlin Neue Gallerie Museum of German and Austrian Art.” Last modified June 8, 2004. Accessed February 16, 2012.            http://www.thecityreview.com/arcadia.html.

 

Lunday, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Lunday, “Looking at Art: Otto Dix’s The Scat Players.” Last            modified December 2, 2011. Accessed February 16, 2012.      http://lunday.com/?p=694.

 

“New objectivity.” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (November 2011): 1.  Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed February 16, 2012).

 

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz, “Dix: Die Skatspieler (Skat Players).” Accessed February 16, 2012.   http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2006/dada/images/artwork/202-108.shtm.


[1]  “New objectivity.” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (November 2011).

[2] Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz, “Dix: Die Skatspieler (Skat Players).” Accessed February 16, 2012. http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2006/dada/images/artwork/202-108.shtm.

[3] Ibid

[4] “Art/Museums: Arcadia and Metropolis Masterworks of German Expressionism From the National Gallerie Berlin Neue Gallerie Museum of German and Austrian Art,” Neue Gallerie Museum of German and Austrian Art, Accessed February 16, 2012, http://www.thecityreview.com/arcadia.html.

[5]  “Dix: Die Skatspieler (Skat Players)”.

[6] Ingo Hermann, “Biography,” Otto Dix, ed. Olaf Peters (New York: Prestel, 2010), 234-235.

[7] Lunday, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Lunday, “Looking at Art: Otto Dix’s The Scat Players.” Last modified December 2, 2011. Accessed February 16, 2012. http://lunday.com/?p=694.

 

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