Otto Dix v.s Jacques Henri Lartigue

May 4, 2012 | | Comments Off on Otto Dix v.s Jacques Henri Lartigue

Primary Source Assignment: Otto Dix v.s Jacques Henri Lartigue

During and in the aftermath of the war the political, cultural, and social order was drastically changed in Europe. New countries were formed, old ones were abolished, international organizations were established, and many new and old ideologies took a firm hold in people’s minds. It was a time of economic hardship as Europe had to recover from the strain of the war. Reparations imposed after World War I, along with a period of great inflation in Europe in the 1920s caused hyperinflation of the German Reichsmark by 1923. This period combined with the effects of the Great Depression in 1929 seriously damaged the stability of the German economy, wiping out the personal savings of the middle class and spurring massive unemployment. However, the 1920’s proved to be a time of social liberation, especially for women, and cultural growth. Artists, Otto Dix and Jacques Henri Lartigue both recognize this in their art. Dix, with his morbid etchings of the turmoil and the less flattering side  of war, and Lartigue with his vivid photography of the feminist liberation period of the flapper and jazz culture. Both artists capture the essence of the interwar period in their work, but with vastly different viewpoints.

Jacques Henri Lartigue, a French photographer and painter, was most famous for his photographs of automobile races, planes and fashionable, Parisian flappers.  Born in Courbevoie to a wealthy family, Jacques Henri Lartigue started taking photographs when he was 7, his subject matter being primarily his own life and the people and activities in it. As a child he photographed his friends and family at play. He also photographed many famous sporting events, including automobile races, early flights by aviation pioneers, and the tennis player Suzanne Lenglen at the French Open tennis championships. His greatest achievement was his set of around 120 huge photograph albums, which compose the finest visual autobiography ever produced. While he sold a few photographs in his youth, it was only when he was sixty-nine that his boyhood photographs were discovered by Charles Rado of the Rapho agency, who introduced him to John Szarkowski, then curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, who in turn arranged an exhibition of his work at the museum. From this, there was a photo spread in Life magazine in 1963, coincidentally in the issue which commemorated the death of John Kennedy, ensuring the widest possible audience for his pictures.

Because Lartigue grew up as a privileged child and did not serve in World War I, his photography was much lighter and did not portray such a dark subject as war. The subjects being shot in Lartigue’s photos were often young fashionable women, usually either leaping or in motion of some kind. In Lartigue’s photo Bichonnade Leaping (“Ma Cousine”) (1905), a young woman is jumping from the stop of an outdoor staircase. All of the jumping and flying in Lartigue’s photographs gives his work the spirit of liberation that was happening at the time.

Lartigue photographed everyone he came in contact. His most frequent muses being his three wives, and his mistress of the early 1930s, the Romanian model Renée Perle. In a 1931 photograph of Perle, Lartigue’s mistress is depicted from the neck up in an up-close head shot. In this photo, and in many other of her, Perle has two fingers making a “V” shape around her closed mouth. By modern culture the V sign used this way, is usually a sexual gesture. Modern audiences of Lartigue’s work may view this photograph as a symbol for seexual and feminist liberation. The subject is rejecting the societal norm of the idea that women should be demure in their sexuality and not be promiscuous.

In one of Lartigue’s many photographs of automobiles, a young woman sporting a driving suit, complete with goggles, speeding the car down a country road.  This shows the age of women’s liberation perfectly by showing the woman driving herself, instead of letting a man drive her. In fact, in the photograph it appears that there is a man riding alongside her in the back seat. This was very unlikely at the time for females had previously seen as the weaker sex and would seldom ever drive themselves, let alone have the man sit in the back of the car.

The social commentary made by Otto Dix, with his work, drastically differs from the art of Jacques Henri Lartigue. Where Lartigue uses his photography to show the lavish counter culture of the 1920s. Dix portrays the dark side of Europe after World War I. Otto Dix, the son of Franz Dix (1862-1942) and Louise Amann (1864-1953) was born in Untermhaus, Germany , in 1891. He studied at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts. To help fund his education, he accepted commissions and painted portraits of local people. When World War I began in 1914, Dix volunteered for the German Army and was assigned to a field artillery regiment in Dresden. In the autumn of 1915 Dix was sent to the Western Front where he served as a non-commissioned officer with a machine-gun unit. In 1917 he fought on the Eastern Front and after Russia negotiated a peace with Germany, Dix returned to France where he took part in the German Spring Offensive . By the end of the war in 1918 Dix had won the Iron Cross and reached the rank of vice-sergeant-major.

After the war Dix developed left-wing views and his paintings and drawings became increasingly political. Like many artists, Dix was angry about the way that the wounded and crippled ex-soldiers were treated in Germany. This started to be reflected in paintings after the war. Skat Players (Card Playing War Cripples,1920) is an example of this turn in Dix’s work. This painted depicts, three veterans sitting around a table playing a card game. Each veteran has some portion of their body replaced by artificial pieces. One man is depicted with no legs, an eye patch, a wooden arm, and a metal jaw.  In this painting, Dix makes a clear social statement using his bold technique in this painting. The Scat Players are war veterans horribly disfigured and crippled by their service, yet they are still able to play cards. Skat was a card game favored by the German manufacturers of weapons. Dix uses the repetition of the cards, the chair legs and the stumped limbs of the men to build a composition that is disturbing in form as well as content.

Wounded, completed in 1916, is another painting by Dix that portrays the horrors that soldiers endure during times of war. In this etching, Dix shows the face of a soldier whose face has an expression of fear and confusion streaked across it. With a mouth wide open, he almost seems to be screaming in pain and confusion: possibly a look that one gives when they know they are about to die. The fingers are clutching desperately at his heart, giving one the impression that he is either suffering from a heart attack or has just been shot within that area. The face of the infantryman is also scarred and scabbed, a result of the harsh conditions of trench life. Another thing to take note of is the helmet on the soldier’s head. In World War One, the typical soldier wore a metal helmet that had no markings or patterns on it. Yet, on this soldier’s helmet, there is a distinct amorphous smear that resembles dirt and dried blood, indicating that this soldier has seen his fair share of blood during combat. At the time, people all over Europe were excited about going to war, expecting the entirety of it all to be over in short time. But the works of Dix illustrate the cold realities of war. Dix tried to show the true costs of war, in hopes that they would prevent yet another manmade disaster.

In all of the paintings created by Dix, his veterans are pitiful figures, disfigured by war and ignored by  survivors. In his piece The Match Seller (1920), a blind veteran sells matches on the street as people ignore his plight, a uncomfortable reminder of humiliating defeat. The wealthy passers-by on the streets ignore him and his struggle. Just one living thing acknowledges the veteran. It is a dachshund who urinates on the stumps that were once his legs. Using a drastically pointed visual language, Dix protests against the senselessness and brutality of war and also the disregard and lack of respect for the soldiers that return from the war wounded. In this painting, the centre of focus is not a group of figures but a single war casualty. The veteran is presented as a kind of anti-hero. He is not being praised and thanked for his service, but instead is left to suffer in the streets without any recognition at all.

Not only did Otto Dix make heavy statements about the veterans and the aftermath of the war with his art, but he also made social commentary about the elite of society and their behavior. The painting  entitled Three Prostitutes on the Street (1925) depicts three women standing by a shop window. Two are younger women and the third is an older  women of the upper economic class. The title suggest that the women are all prostitutes, however only two fit that physical description. The older women on the left walks with her nose in the air and a toy dog in her arm. Dix gives all three this title because each works the system to the best of their ability, some do better than others. The women prowl for money or stare narcissistically at their own figures.

In conclusion, through both artists’ work, World War I and its long aftermath can be seen in two drastically different ways. Otto Dix shows modern audiences the disgraceful state Europe left its wounded veterans, and the turmoil the Europe faced with economic hardship. Opposingly, Jacques Henri Lartigue portrays the lighter side of the 1920s filled with the female liberation of the flapper culture and the relief the Great War had ended. However, both artists accurately capture the essence of the interwar period in their work and have lessons to teach future viewers to come.


Dix, Otto. Two Statements on the Nature of War:Fifty Etchings Created in 1923 and 1924 by Otto Dix. Barre, Massachusetts: Imprint Society, 1972. Print.

Otto Dix. Skat Players (Card Playing War Cripples). 1920. Painting. BlogspotWeb. 18 Apr 2012.


Otto Dix. The Match Seller.1920. Painting. The Otto Dix Project Online. 18 Apr 2012.


Otto Dix. Three Prostitutes on the Street.1925. Painting. The Otto Dix Project Online. 18 Apr 2012.


Otto Dix. Wounded. 1919. Painting. DailyArtFixx. 18 Apr 2012.


Jacques Henri Lartigue. Bichonnade Leaping (“Ma Cousine”). 1905. Photograph. Flickr, Paris. Web.

18 Apr 2012. <>.

Jacques Henri Lartigue. Renee Pere. 1931. Photograph. FlickrWeb. 18 Apr 2012.


Bibliography (cont.)

Jacques Henri Lartigue. Tweed and Speed. Photograph. Blogspot, Paris. Web. 18 Apr 2012.




Otto Dix. Skat Players (Card Playing War Cripples). 1920


Otto Dix. The Match Seller. 1920


Otto Dix. Three Prostitutes on the Street. 1925.


Otto Dix. Wounded. 1919

Appendix (cont.)


Jacques Henri Lartigue. Bichonnade (“Ma Cousine”).1905.

2.Renee Pere. 1931

Appendix (cont.)


Jacques Henri Lartigue. Tweed and Speed.

Allyson Dodson


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