Sex and Death - The Faces of Germany Between Wars
I'll either be famous or infamous - Otto Dix
Imagine a caricatured naked woman with large swollen bosoms and a crudely painted vagina reflected in the "Halls of Mirrors". The woman is a prostitute and satisfies the carnal lust of a leering caricatured man, dressed in a military uniform.
I'm talking about the painting Memory of the Halls of Mirrors in Brussels (1920). Otto Dix, the well-known German artist, painted this art piece illustrating the jarring realistic depictions of Weimar society and the brutality of war.
"Everybody thinks they know what art should be. But very few of them have the sense that is necessary to experience painting, that is the sense of sight, that sees colors and forms as a living reality in the picture." - Otto Dix
Dix is considered to be one of the prominent artists of World War 1. As a veteran in the German army and a frontline warrior, he was deeply affected by violence, deaths, and destruction. From the war areas to saloons and brothels of the Weimar Republic to the rise of the Nazi regime.
As a matter of fact, he documented the traumatic experiences of people in many subsequent works including portfolio etchings called The War (Der Krieg) published in 1924.
Composition of the "Memory of the Halls of Mirrors in Brussels"
A hedonistic vision of carnal lust, rendered gratuitously with a raw erotic power that never fails to excite and shock.
This painting shows a crimson-faced general leering a naked prostitute. The crimson color illustrates the "devilish image" of the general. In one hand, the officer holds a Chateau red wine and the other hand gropes the breast of the prostitute.
Notice carefully, the multiple mirrors aka "Halls of Mirrors" that do not reflect the exact image of the central theme but the natural progression of their sexual intercourse from different angles.
The bottommost mirror shows the woman's vagina while the top left mirror shows her buttocks.
Interpreting the "Memory of the Halls of Mirrors in Brussels"
This painting was set in Brussels where the sex industry had just begun and the German soldiers stayed and caroused in for a week or two before resuming their war on the front line.
Prostitutes, pimps and beggars became the dominant subject of Dix's paintings. The idea was to juxtapose the sufferings of the unfortunate with the extreme greed of the rich.
WWI shook the sexual order of all the warring societies. Two sets of people were massively affected. The first group was formed of exclusive women who were left when local men had gone to war. The second was the German militants who used local women for their sexual needs.
The German soldiers deliberately did not stay in their friend countries but rather fought, rested and moved around in enemy territories. The allied territories including Belgium and France were seized and prostitution began to satiate the sexual needs of soldiers. Also, the German atrocities lead to numerous cases of rape.
Dix knew that "sex and death" would always be around, along with war and the human body and would always give one a greater sense of reality.
This painting scandalized the German authorities and it brought him to courts where he was tried and acquitted for obscenity.
The Nazis labeled Dix a "degenerate," but the term is better applied to the society he depicted - cannibalizing itself and hurtling toward destruction. - Alina Cohen
This painting was an eye-opener to me and by far Dix's great work. It somehow strikes me in a stylistic manner too.
I would love to know your insightful thoughts on this piece.
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