Wilhelm Heinrich Otto Dix (2 December 1891 – 25 July 1969) was a German painter and printmaker. Noted for his ruthless and harshly realistic depictions of Weimar society and of the brutality of war, he, along with George Grosz, is widely considered one of the most important artists of the Neue Sachlichkeit.
When the First World War erupted, Dix enthusiastically volunteered for the German Army. He was taken to a field artillery regiment in Dresden. In the fall of 1915 he was assigned as a non-commissioned officer of a machine-gun unit in the Western front and took part of the Battle of the Somme. He was seriously wounded several times. In 1917, his unit was transferred to the Eastern front until the end of hostilities with Russia. Back in the western front, he fought in the German Spring offensive. He earned the Iron Cross (second class) and reached the rank of vice-sergeant-major.
Dix was profoundly affected by the sights of the war, and would later describe a recurring nightmare in which he crawled through destroyed houses. He represented his traumatic experiences in many subsequent works, including a portfolio of fifty etchings called War, published in 1924.
In 1924 he joined the Berlin Secession; by this time he was developing an increasingly realistic style of painting that used thin glazes of oil paint over a tempera underpainting, in the manner of the old masters. His 1923 painting The Trench, which depicted dismembered and decomposed bodies of soldiers after a battle caused such a furor that the Wallraf-Richartz Museum hid the painting behind a curtain. In 1925 the then-mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, cancelled the purchase of the painting and forced the director of the museum to resign.
Dix was a contributor to the Neue Sachlichkeit exhibition in Mannheim in 1925, which featured works by George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, Karl Hubbuch, Rudolf Schlichter, Georg Scholz and many others. Dix's work, like that of Grosz—his friend and fellow veteran—was extremely critical of contemporary German society and often dwelled on the act of Lustmord, or sexual murder. He drew attention to the bleaker side of life, unsparingly depicting prostitution, violence, old age and death.
Among his most famous paintings are the triptych Metropolis (1928), a scornful portrayal of depraved actions of Germany's Weimar Republic, where nonstop revelry was a way to deal with the wartime defeat and financial catastrophe, and the startling Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926). His depictions of legless and disfigured veterans—a common sight on Berlin's streets in the 1920s—illustrate their forgotten status within contemporary German society, a concept also developed in Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front.
Dix, like all other practicing artists, was forced to join the Nazi government's Reich Chamber of Fine Arts (Reichskammer der bildenden Kuenste), a subdivision of Goebbels' Cultural Ministry (Reichskulturkammer). Membership was mandatory for all artists in the Reich. Dix had to promise to paint only inoffensive landscapes. He still painted an occasional allegorical painting that criticized Nazi ideals. In 1939 he was arrested on a trumped-up charge of being involved in a plot against Hitler (see Georg Elser) but was later released.