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Artistic Expressions and the Great War, A Hundred Years On

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Edited By Sally Debra Charnow

The Great War set in motion all of the subsequent violence of the twentieth century. The war took millions of lives, led to the fall of four empires, established new nations, and negatively affected others. During and after the war, individuals and communities struggled to find expression for their wartime encounters and communal as well as individual mourning. Throughout this time of enormous upheaval, many artists redefined their role in society, among them writers, performers, painters, and composers. Some sought to renew or re-establish their place in the postwar climate, while others longed for an irretrievable past, and still others tried to break with the past entirely.

This volume offers a significant interdisciplinary contribution to the study of modern war, exploring the ways that artists contributed to wartime culture – both representing and shaping it – as well as the ways in which wartime culture influenced artistic expressions. Artists’ places within and against reconstruction efforts illuminate the struggles of the day. The essays included represent a transnational perspective and seek to examine how artists dealt with the experience of conflict and mourning and their role in (re-)establishing creative practices in the changing climate of the interwar years.

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12. Between Art and History: (Ann Murray)

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ANN MURRAY

Between Art and History: Reconfiguring theMemory of World War I in Otto Dix’s Metropolis

ABSTRACT

This chapter explores how Otto Dix’s painting Metropolis engaged with practices of war memorialization in German visual culture in 1928, the tenth anniversary of the armistice. Taking into account the role of war memory in cultural and political life and rising militarist activity, the chapter shows how the painting, in its portrayal of the impact of the lost war for Germany, interrogated the exceptional tolerance for militarism and prevalence of reactionary imagery that played down the devastating consequences of the war. The chapter also considers the immediate cultural environment of Dresden, where Dix was based and Metropolis first exhibited, as well as critical reviews of the picture locally and further afield, at the time of its first exhibition in the city in 1928. The critical response to the picture by extreme nationalist art critics, active in Dresden since 1920, presaged the fate of art in a remilitarized, Nazified Germany.

Otto Dix’s thirty-eight months as a frontline soldier were the key to much of his postwar output. Alongside numerous portraits and other commissioned work, his portrayal of postwar German society and the war experience made him one of Germany’s most internationally known and controversial living artists. His sparse commentary on his work during the 1920s and 1930s have only enhanced the pictures’ enigma, then and since. Yet, much may be gleaned as to how the works...

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