Otto Dix’s experience fighting in the trenches in World War I in many ways influenced the imagery on which he focused throughout the 1920s. After brief periods of working in Expressionist – and Futurist-inspired veins during the teens, the artist returned to a veristic style, one then termed Nue Sachlicheit (New Objectivity). In this realistic and slightly caricatural manner, Dix continued to create disturbing prints, drawings, and paintings inspired by the war and its aftermath, depicting Weimar society in moral and economic decay. In 1924 Dix published the print portfolio War, comprising fifty-one intaglio prints that chronicle the horrors of battle replete with blown-up bodies, decomposing corpses, suicide, and prostitutes servicing their military clients.
Dix’s other main subject at this time was that of the female prostitute and her customers, of which Sailor and Prostitute is among the most salient examples. In 1922 Dix made a watercolor entitled Me in Brussels (Otto Dix Stiftung, Vaduz), in which he depicted himself in soldier’s uniform on leave in the Belgian capital pursuing a prostitute. In this print of the following year, his memories of the war mingled with the nearly epidemic problem in 1920s Berlin of sexual trafficking. While Dix regularly presented prostitutes as targets for condemnation, images such as Sailor and Prostitute appear more titillating that judgmental. Here, the clothed sailor is burly, aggressive, tattooed, and leering. He presses up against a heavily rouged woman, naked except for the stereotypical decorative tool of her trade, a dark stocking held up by a garter. The animal magnetism of the couple’s exchange is echoed by the carved, lion-faced knob embellishing the bed. Such representations appealed to the tastes of Dix’s collectors, men interested in eroticized imagery. Despite the fact that, the same year this print was made, Dix went to court to defend his art and himself against charges of obscenity, he continued to execute these socially critical and marketable images of the sex trade.
Jay A. Clark, Graphic Modernism: Selections from the Francey and Dr. Martin L. Gecht Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago with Hudson Hills Press, 2003, pp. 56.