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Otto Dix (1891-1969)
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Otto Dix (1891-1969)

Schwangeres Weib

Details
Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Schwangeres Weib
signed and dated 'DIX 1919' (lower right)
oil on canvas
53¼ x 28½ in. (135.2 x 72.3 cm.)
Painted in 1919
Provenance
Galerie Nierendorf, Berlin.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in the early 1970s.
Literature
H. Zehder, 'Otto Dix', in Neue Blätter für Kunst und Dichtung, vol. 2, no. 6, Dresden, 1919, pp. 119-120 (illustrated p. 121).
T. Däubler, Das Kunstblatt, vol. IV, Berlin, 1920, pp. 118-120.
O. Conzelmann, Otto Dix, Hannover, 1959, p. 19 (titled ‘Das schwangere Weib’).
F. Löffler, Otto Dix: Leben und Werk, Dresden, 1960, p. 19.
F. Löffler, Otto Dix: Leben und Werk, Dresden and Vienna, 1967, p. 20.
F. Löffler, Otto Dix: Leben und Werk, Dresden, 1977, pp. 21 & 32 (illustrated pl. 16).
B.S. Barton, Otto Dix and Die Neue Sachlichkeit 1918-1925, Ann Arbor, 1981, no. 1919.10, pp. 16, 18 & 36 (illustrated pl. 2; titled ‘Das schwangere Weib’).
F. Löffler, Otto Dix, 1891-1969, Oeuvre der Gemälde, Recklinghausen, 1981, no. 1919-6 (illustrated).
E. Karcher, Otto Dix, Munich, 1986, pp. 8 & 13 (illustrated p. 40).
S. Sabarsky, Malerei des deutschen Expressionismus, Stuttgart, 1987, p. 222 (illustrated p. 223).
E. Karcher, Otto Dix, 1891-1969, His Life and Works, Cologne, 1988, pp. 30 & 145 (illustrated p. 55).
E. Karcher, Otto Dix, Munich, 1989, p. 41 (illustrated p. 40).
J.K. Schmidt & D. Scholz, eds., Otto Dix: Bestandskatalog, Stuttgart, 1989, no. 4, p. 341 (illustrated p. 89).
R. Beck, Otto Dix. Die kosmischen Bilder: Zwischen Sehnsucht und schwangerem Weib, Dresden, 2003, pp. 43, 78, 111, 128, 132, 215 & 232 (illustrated pp. 45, 80, 88, 116, 129, 132, 165, 216 & 235).
K. Müller, Geisterbahn und Glanzrevue. Otto Dix. Aquarelle und Gouachen, exh. cat., Hamburg, 2007, p. 21 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Dresden, Kunstsalon Emil Richter, Dresdner Sezession Gruppe, April – May 1919, no. 8.
Darmstadt, Deutsche Kunst, 1923.
Berlin, Galerie Nierendorf, Otto Dix - Bilder, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen, September 1966, no. 1 (illustrated p. 3).
Berlin, Galerie Nierendorf, Fünfzig Jahre Galerie Nierendorf, 1920-1970, September 1970, no. 2, p. 17 (illustrated).
Stuttgart, Galerie der Stadt, Otto Dix zum 80. Geburtstag - Gemälde, Aquarelle, Gouachen, Zeichnungen und Radierfolge 'Der Krieg', October - November 1971, no. 30, p. 62 (illustrated p. 67); this exhibition later travelled to Paris, Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, February - April 1972, no. 22, p. 26 (illustrated p. 27).
Montrouge, XXIXe Salon de Montrouge, Otto Dix - Art contemporain: Peinture, sculpture, dessin, May - June 1984, no. 12 (illustrated).
Brussels, Palais de Beaux-Arts, Otto Dix - 1891-1969, June - July 1985, no. 24, p. 48 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Munich, Museum Villa Stuck, August - October 1985, no. 271, p. 308 (illustrated p. 161).
Berlin, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Otto Dix, March - April 1987, no. 18, p. 248 (illustrated p. 66).
Stuttgart, Galerie der Stadt, Otto Dix, 1891-1969, September - November 1991, pp. 16, 75 & 331 (illustrated p. 77); this exhibition later travelled to Berlin, Nationalgalerie, November 1991 - February 1992; and London, Tate Gallery, March - May 1992, no. 25, p. 96 (illustrated).
Milan, Fondazione Antonio Mazzotta, Otto Dix, March - June 1997, p. 68 (illustrated).
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Otto Dix: Metropolis, July - October 1998, no. 21, p. 76 (illustrated p. 77).
Montreal, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, Cosmos: From Romanticism to the Avant-garde, June - October 1999, no. 89, p. 328 (illustrated p. 233); this exhibition later travelled to Barcelona, Centre de Cultura Contemporània, November 1999 - February 2000, p. 293 (illustrated p. 205).
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Cosmos: From Goya to de Chirico, from Friedrich to Kiefer; Art in Pursuit of the Infinite, March - July 2007, p. 278 (illustrated).
Regensburg, Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Otto Dix: Welt & Sinnlichkeit, October 2005 - January 2006, p. 253 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Schaffhausen, Museum zu Allerheiligen, June - October 2006.
Paris, Centre Pompidou, Traces du Sacré, May - August 2008, p. 165 (illustrated).
On loan to the Galerie der Stadt, Stuttgart, 1989 – 2010 (inv. no. LG-81).
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Laetitia Pot
Laetitia Pot

Lot Essay

When, in November 1918, the four year long catastrophe of the Great War finally came to an end, the cessation of hostilities not only redefined the map of Europe and swept away many of its antiquated monarchies, but it also, for a brief while, ushered in an ecstatic and revolutionary period of utopian optimism about the future of mankind. In Germany in particular, inspired by the transition of power in Russia and by its own ‘November Revolution’, the expressionist generation greeted these events and the establishment of a new republic with euphoria, championing this watershed as a ‘resurrection of the soul’ and the dawning of a new age. ‘Now. Now. Finally. Now! The new world has begun’, wrote René Schikele, ‘Young painters appear, as heralds of a new world’, wrote the Dresden Expressionist poet Walther Rheiner, ‘they call to you and they sing and they cry - full of the cosmos that is taking new shape inside of them.’ Believing that, as in Russia, artists and writers would now have a key role to play in the shaping of a new liberal and egalitarian society, the German avant-garde rushed into collective action founding artist-workers groups, revolutionary co-operatives and creative brotherhoods, each one eagerly expounding on the glorious prospects of this new age of man. The dominant style and pictorial language of their art was an ecstatic, almost evangelical Expressionism rich in religious and cosmic metaphor. Otto Dix’s Schwangeres Weib (Pregnant Woman) is one of the great masterpieces made both for and about this brief but extraordinarily dramatic period of history. 

An icon of both revolution and of the extraordinary spirit of this time, Schwangeres Weib is an image of apotheosis that represents the culmination of a series of mystical cosmic paintings that Dix had been dreaming of making all through the war. Along with what is literally its ‘sister picture’ Mondweib (Moonwoman) from the Nationalgalerie Berlin, this picture was Dix’s largest, most ambitious and accomplished painting to date and, perhaps even intentionally, his last truly ‘expressionist’ painting. As such, until 2010, it had hung for many years as almost the sole representative of this brief but seminal period in Dix’s career in the world’s largest and finest collection of his work in the Galerie der Stadt, Stuttgart. 

Dix painted Schwangeres Weib in the early spring of 1919 along with at least two other major oils - Mondweib and the now lost Auferstehung des Fleisches (resurrection of the flesh) - for the first major exhibition of the revolutionary expressionist group, the ‘Dresdner Sezession Gruppe 1919’, held at the Galerie Emil Richter that April. A poster for the show that Dix designed shows an eager brotherhood of figures climbing towards the sun while a photograph of him taken at this time shows the artist sitting proud and defiant in front of a partially painted Schwangeres Weib with a completed Auferstehung des Fleisches also visible in the corner of the studio. These three paintings represented the culmination of a series of distinctly cosmically-themed pictures that were founded on ideas Dix had developed before the war but which came to fruition after his immersion in the heady post-revolutionary atmosphere of expressionist Dresden in the early months of 1919. 

At the time of Dix’s return to the Saxon capital, he was a twenty-seven-year-old war veteran recently released from four years of military service as a machine-gun officer on both the Eastern and Western fronts. Unlike most of his generation, the war had not fundamentally altered his philosophical outlook on life, but instead had confirmed and even deepened it. A devotee of Nietzsche, Dix’s experiences in the trenches had revealed to him the brutal but also liberating truth that life was in essence little more than an endless cosmic cycle of ‘Werden und Vergehen’ (growth and decay) ruled and dictated by the primal struggle between the elemental forces of Eros and Thanatos (sex and death). 

Coming to see life in these almost mystical and near-abstract terms and operating in accordance with Nietzsche and J.J. Bachofen’s belief in the cyclical concept of time and the ancient ‘law of eternal recurrence’, Dix interpreted the world and depicted it in his pictures as a great cosmic wheel of experience seeming to be constantly revolving all around him. In this context, he had concluded that ‘even war must be seen as a natural phenomenon... money, religion and women have all been the cause of wars but not the prime reason. That is an eternal law’ (Otto Dix, ‘Diaries, 1915-16’, in Otto Dix, exh. cat., London, 1992, p.78). Dix’s gouache paintings of the war swiftly executed during brief moments between fighting seemed to catalogue the conflict from this distant and indeed holistic philosophical perspective. Concentrating on a cyclical theme of life and death, his work simultaneously presented a series of flowery star-like explosions and tiny skeletal ant-like figures struggling over a ravaged landscape - an endless parade of death and destruction acted out on the vast undulating contours of the wounded and pock-marked body of Mother-Earth. Acknowledging the pagan Mother-Goddess’ elemental role in this cosmic conflict with the forces of Thanatos, Dix observed in his war diary, that in ‘the last analysis all wars are fought about and for the sake of the vulva’ (Ibid).

Running parallel to these often near-abstract images of war as a kind of cosmic triumph of Thanatos is also the ever-present theme of resurrection. This can feature in the form of flowers blooming on graves and corpses or in the persistent form of a voluptuous female, sometimes depicted as a part of the earth, sometimes as a lover and sometimes standing proud and maternal, but always abundantly fertile. As in sketches made before the war and in accordance with the great Germanic tradition of depicting ‘Death and the Maiden’ of which Dix felt himself keenly a part, this great female figure represents the erotic life-giving antithesis of Death. In his war drawings she appears as a chthonic Venus hidden in the ground, as one side of a pair of lovers breathing life into a field of graves on the battlefield, or as an archetypal fertility figure and Earth Mother seemingly linking earth and sky in a prolonged series of studies with the intriguing title of Fruchtschale (Fruit Bowl). Always a generic figure, ‘Woman’, in Dix’s work, is the living physical embodiment ?of the great driving and elemental force ?of Eros. 

In all these works, and more particularly in the series of cosmic oil paintings that Dix began producing on his return to Dresden, the artist was perpetually propagandising these Nietszchean-inspired and essentially pagan beliefs. Indeed, in his last three major cosmic paintings Auferstehung des Fleisches, Mondweib and Schwangeres Weib, Dix, in accordance with much of the ‘new age’ expressionist iconography of the time and its equating of the mystical ‘birth’ of a new humanity with Christian motifs, even appropriated Christian themes as way of putting across his own essentially apolitical and anti-Christian beliefs more forcefully. In a clear symbol of the end of the war, for example, Auferstehung des Fleisches depicts a scene of resurrection in the form of a buxom moon goddess (Eros) sexually triumphing over Thanatos and ascending from a field of death. Mondweib and Schwangeres Weib develop this theme of ascension further, presenting images of the great goddess floating in the night sky in two highly eroticised pictures of that perennial theme of urban expressionism - the portentous city night. Mondweib takes the form of a cruciform female figure eroticising a vulva-shaped city below while Schwangeres Weib is a more universal, futurist and near-abstract rendering of the Great Mother-Goddess materialising like a cosmic embryo from the constellations of the night sky in a mystic portrait of apotheosis. It is in this sense a ‘Triumph of Eros’ offered up as a parallel to the Christian theme of the assumption of the Virgin. Indeed, in what may have been the first but which was certainly not the last of Dix’s borrowings from Dresden’s most prestigious art museum, Schwangeres Weib openly parodies the Dresden Gemäldegalerie’s most famous painting, Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. In painting an holistic and pagan version of the same subject for the Gruppe 1919’s first exhibition, Schwangeres Weib not only encapsulates the mystical spirit of this period of revolution and change in the image of a pregnant goddess, but it also boldly throws down a challenge to the entire Christian tradition and history of European art. 

That Schwangeres Weib presents a pagan alternative to the Christian Madonna is symbolised by the tame bull standing between this Madonna’s legs. Echoing an earlier gouache portrait of a Madonna also standing over a tame bull that Dix had painted in 1914 and which, with its audience of many watching faces, bears an even closer resemblance to the Raphael, it is clear that Dix intended his Madonna to symbolise an altogether different canon of thought. The bull - as a symbol of fertility - was in many cultures the traditional companion of the goddess of fertility and the Great Mother, the prime divinity of the great Dionysian age of matriarchy which, according to Bachofen and Nietzsche and the ‘law of eternal recurrence’, had preceded and would again follow the modern age of patriarchy. 

With the end of the war and the coming of revolution - literally the turning of the cosmic wheel perhaps - many Expressionists believed that a new matriarchal age of the spirit, of sexual liberation, woman’s emancipation and even free love was about to dawn. It is the genesis of this new age as indicated in that daemonic zone of cosmic portent so favoured by the Expressionists at this time - the night sky - that Schwangeres Weib depicts. The ancient mystical idea that portents of the future are visible in the night sky is one that permeates much expressionist art and literature of this period, from the poems of Jakob van Hoddis and Georg Heym to the paintings of Ludwig Meidner, Paul Klee, George Grosz and possibly the most mystic and influential of all, the so-called ‘Russian Expressionist’, Marc Chagall.  The greatest champion of this idea, however, was the most cosmic and mystic of all expressionist poets Theodor Däubler, author of the epic three-volume poem Das Nordlicht (The Northern Lights) and the roving art critic of Der Neue Standpunkt. An important and influential presence wherever he went, Däubler had first met Dix in the spring of 1919 and visited his studio soon after the first Gruppe 1919 exhibition in May 1919. ‘Schwangeres Weib stands and signifies the eternally pregnant world’, Daübler later wrote of the present work. ‘Extending immeasurably beyond the bounds of its circles’, her ‘pregnancy’ was a ‘germinating consciousness’ of the infinite cosmos simultaneously radiating in ‘ascending’ and ‘descending’ spirals from the heavens (T. Däubler, Das Kunstblatt, vol. 4, 1920 p. 120).

Essentially a constellation that appears to be simultaneously coming into being and also disintegrating, the great pregnant goddess of this painting is an apparition and astral coalescence that seems to physically embody the ying and yang-like forces of Eros and Thanatos. The swirling circular shapes of this goddess’ body echo the force-lines of the Italian Futurists and the colour circles of Robert Delaunay, while also symbolising these opposing forces: red the colour of Eros, deep blue for Thanatos. This was a symbolic and polarised colour scheme that Dix had developed in his watercolour sketches before the war, but which in 1919 may also have drawn on the mystic and musical colour theories of Alexander Scriabin, where red and blue formed the polar opposites of the Russian composer’s famous mystic chord. Dix had been introduced to Scriabin’s mystic theories and music through his friendship in Dresden with the composer Erwin Schulhoff and his sister Viola - an art student and girlfriend in whose studio Dix was painting many of his pictures at this time. Indeed as the Dix scholar Rainer Beck has pointed out in his book on Dix’s cosmic pictures, the very form of Schwangeres Weibs spirals may in fact derive from those used by Jean Delville in his illustrated cover of Scriabin’s best known composition, Prometheus, Poem of Fire (See R. Beck, Otto Dix Die Kosmischen Bilder Zwischen Sehnsucht und Schwangerem Weib, Dresden, 2003).

Similarly, in its articulation of a great cosmic moment of creation as a mystic union between opposing polarities - earth and sky, Eros and Thanatos, darkness and light -Schwangeres Weib can also be seen as an expression of the influential writer and philosopher Salomo Friedlaender’s recently expounded concept of Schopferische Indifferenz (creative indifference). A frequenter of Berlin dadaist circles, ‘Mynona’ (Friedlaender’s nom de plume) had first published his concept of creation as a dynamic but ultimately indifferent harmonising of polarised opposites in the summer of 1918. In March 1919, the poet Walter Rheiner’s review of Friedlaender’s work appeared in the same issue of the Dresden periodical Neue Blatter für Kunst und Dichtung that announced the formation of the Gruppe 1919. 

Images of stars, flowers and also skulls in Schwangeres Weib hint at the idea of a unified cosmos comprised of polarised opposites and an endlessly spiraling cycle of birth, flowering and death, while the goddess herself - reaching up with one hand to the heavens and simultaneously down with the other to the head of the bull and a single star shown radiating light onto it - embodies the ultimate cosmic union that exists between all these opposites as between both earth and sky. Indeed, the spiralling pattern of stars in this painting may at one time have been luminous, as these have been painted in a thick and radiant light green paint reminiscent of the kind of phosphorescent paint that Dix is also reported to have experimented with around this time. 

At the absolute centre of this work, in the belly of the goddess, the genesis of her astral child is indicated by a radiant star painted over the black image of a skull. A simultaneous fusion of Eros and Thanatos, the child of this mystical pregnant aurora will clearly be the kind of ‘star child’, Übermensch or ‘New Man’ that many Expressionists, particularly in Dresden, repeatedly used as a symbol of the birth of the new era. 

‘We are the embodiment of our own constellation’, Theodor Däubler had written of the Expressionist credo. ‘Man is the construct of his own spirituality. His enduring passion and suffering - a nest from which the Star-Child will fly into eternity’ (T. Däubler, ‘Expressionismus’, in Der Neue Standpunkt, Dresden, 1916). In Schwangeres Weib, Dix’s wheeling vortex of a mother-goddess - that most primal, direct and the very first image in the whole history of art - becomes a powerful pagan icon graphically expressing this notion and the extraordinarily precious moment in history when such a dream seemed on the cusp of becoming real. 
Robert Brown

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