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    Sale 1900

    Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale

    6 November 2007, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 61

    Otto Dix (1891-1969)

    Familie Glaser--Karton zum Gemälde

    Price Realised  


    Otto Dix (1891-1969)
    Familie Glaser--Karton zum Gemälde
    signed 'Otto Dix' (lower right)
    charcoal over pencil on joined tracing paper
    40 x 32 in. (101.6 x 81.2 cm.)
    Drawn in 1925

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    This drawing is a study for the portrait of Dr. Fritz Glaser and his family that Dix painted in 1925 (fig. 1). Dr. Glaser was one of Dix's most avid supporters. He was a prosperous Dresden lawyer and an accomplished musician, and had a taste for avant-garde art. As a collector and patron, he had befriended the artist as early as 1919 (fig. 2). Dix affectionately referred to him as the "tapir" on account of his pronounced nose. Glaser sustained Dix during a destitute spell as hyperinflation spiraled out of control in Germany, and as a further sign of his regard and support for the painter, he subsequently commissioned the group portrait for which this drawing is the final, full-scale study.

    Dix had already moved to Berlin by 1925 where he embarked on the finest and most fertile years of his career, but he returned to Dresden on more than one occasion to make studies for the Glaser family portrait. While the artist made preliminary, individual sketches for the painting, a recollection by Dr. Glaser's son, Volkmar confirms that the family did not come together to sit for this definitive charcoal and pencil composition. This may explain the apparent lack of a shared and harmonious demeanor among the family members, each of whom seems self-absorbed and preoccupied with his or her own thoughts. While the paterfamilias stands stiffly, looming over his wife, Erna, and their children, Volkmar gazes pensively beyond the viewer, apprehensively clutching his mother's arm, or protectively so--she seems perturbed by some private concern or family matter. Erna also had a penchant for avant-garde art. She had attended the prestigious Dresden Art Academy and knew many artists. It was Erna who had first encouraged her husband to collect art. Volkmar's sister, Agathe, her head downcast but with her eyes lifted shyly, seems reluctant to meet the artist's gaze. In the finished portrait, Agathe's eyes look in different directions. Her right eye appears smaller than the left one, which is perfectly rounded. Indeed, Agathe had lost her left eye in an accident and wore a glass substitute it its place.

    Dix, now the most notorious portraitist in Weimar Germany, was known for his penetrating vision and acerbic wit. Indeed, Volkmar found the experience of sitting for the artist to be distressing: "I sat briefly for him in our courtyard at the spot where the artist later posed with the completed portrait. I had the impression that, unlike other artists I had observed in my father's house, he did not take the time to study me carefully to transcribe exactly what he had observed. He stared at me with knitted brows and a sinister expression first from the right side, then from the left, and without saying a word. But during this time, he seemed to have gained a certain impression of me that he quickly jotted down into his notebooks when he turned away from me. I remember it all very clearly, because it struck me as such peculiar, odd and unusual behavior that I became scared. I did not realize at the time that he must have had a phenomenal visual memory. He not only reproduced the exterior of a person, but also the emotional impression that this person had left upon him." (quoted by S. Rewald in "Tales of two sitters: notes on two Dix portraits," The Burlington Magazine April 1996, p. 252).

    The strong lines, subtle shading and scrupulous smudging of the charcoal that accentuates the facial features of the Glaser family members attest to the importance of this drawing. The superb attention to detail renders it a fully fledged group portrait in its own right. The significance of this study resides not only in its masterly precision, but also as a revealing demonstration of a critical innovation that Dix had introduced into his work. In 1925, Dix began to adapt the painting techniques of the Renaissance Italian and German masters, enabling him to convey an unflinching realism that firmly situated the artist as the leading protagonist for the emergent "Neue Sachlichkeit" style that was sweeping through artistic circles in Germany during the 1920s. In the painting The Lawyer Dr. Glaser and his Family, Dix seriously engaged with the hyper-observant and analytical qualities of German Renaissance masters such as Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach and Hans Baldung Grien (fig. 4). The Glaser portrait marks the first time that Dix used the old master technique of painting with tempera and oil on a wooden panel. The study was instrumental to that process. As Sabine Rewald has noted: "We know how Dix transferred this cartoon onto the wood panel from the precise instructions he gave students regarding the method. He cut a piece of transparent paper to the size of the wood panel, covered the paper evenly with red chalk, then placed it face down on the panel. He accomplished the transfer by placing the cartoon over chalk-covered paper; then, pressing hard with a sharp pencil, he redrew the cartoon's outlines and indicated the shadings with striations. Finally, he reinforced the transferred lines with thinned watercolor. The many rough black lines and areas of dark striations on this cartoon are explained by its use as a working tool in the transfer process" (in Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920's, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2006, p.164).

    Dix's portrait of the Glaser family is a landmark picture in the development of the artist's fully mature style, and it helped to secure his position as one of the most sought-after portraitists in Germany during the Weimar period. His ruthless eye for the dysfunctional aspects of the German character made him famous, but with the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s his celebrity would turn against him, and leave him singled out for special condemnation as a degenerate artist, with his finest work subjected to unrelenting denigration and the threat of confiscation and destruction. In 1933, Dix was dismissed from his post as a professor of art at the Dresden Academy of Art and was forced into internal exile at Lake Constance, near the Swiss border, where he was permitted to paint landscapes only.

    (fig. 1) Otto Dix, Family Portrait of the Lawyer Dr. Fritz Glaser, 1925. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden. BARCODE 26007328

    (fig. 2) Dr. Fritz Glaser in Dresden, circa 1920. BARCODE 26007335

    (fig. 3) Volkmar Glaser and his sister Agathe in Dresden, 1924. BARCODE 26007342

    (fig. 4) Otto Dix posing with his portrait of the Glaser family in the courtyard of the Glaser House in 1925. BARCODE 26007359


    Dr. Fritz Glaser, Dresden.
    Galerie Kunstausstellung Kühl, Dresden.
    Private collection, Germany (acquired from the above, 1969).
    By descent from the above to the present owner, 1969.

    Saleroom Notice

    Please note that this work has been requested for the following exhibition: "Getroffen--Otto Dix und die Kunst des Porträts," Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, 1 December 2007-20 April 2008.


    B. Barton, Otto Dix and Die neue Sachlichkeit 1918-1925, Ann Arbor, 1981.
    F. Löffler, Otto Dix 1891-1969: Oeuvre der Gemälde, Recklinghausen, 1981, p. 307.
    U. Lorenz, Otto Dix: Das Werkverzeichnis der zeichnungen und Pastelle, Bonn, 2002, vol. III, p. 1015, no. Nsk 2.7.1 (illustrated).


    Galerie der Stadt Stuttgart, Otto Dix zum 80. Geburtstag: Gemälde, Aquarelle, Gouachen, Zeichnungen und Radierfolge "Der Krieg", 1971, no. 238.
    Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, Otto Dix: Peintures, aquarelles, gouaches, dessins et gravures du cycle de "La guerre", February-April 1972, no. 117.
    Galerie der Stadt Stuttgart, Otto Dix--Menschenbilder: Gemälde, Aquarelle, Gouachen und Zeichnungen, 1981, no. 103 (illustrated).
    Munich, Museum Villa Stuck, Otto Dix 1891-1969, 1985, no. 260 (illustrated, p. 129).
    New York, Guggenheim Museum; Cambridge, Busch-Reisinger Museum and Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, German Realist Drawings of the 1920s, May-December 1986, no. 32.
    Galerie der Stadt Stuttgart (on extended loan since 1987).
    Galerie der Stadt Stuttgart and Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, Otto Dix, Bestandskatalog: Gemälde, Aquarelle, Pastelle, Zeichnungen, Holzschnitte, Radierungen, Lithographien, 1989, no. 91 (illustrated, p. 221).
    Galerie der Stadt Stuttgart and Stuttgart, Staatliche Museen Preubischer Kulturbesitz Berlin, Otto Dix Zum 100, 1991, no. Z 1925-2.
    Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Otto Dix: Metropolis, 1998, no. 150 (illustrated, p. 153).
    New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s, November 2006-February 2007, no. 48 (illustrated in color, p. 163).