Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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Otto Dix, Flandern (Flanders) (after Le Feu by Henri Barbusse), 1934-6, oil and tempera on canvas, 200 x 250 cm, Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.

© SESAM, Paris, 1998.

The death

100 - Otto Dix

At a time when the Nazis had banned him from teaching and exhibiting, Dix secretly produced this last painting in memory of his war and its dead. Even more so than the triptych, the style is inspired by the old German masters, notably the treatment of the sky, the roots and the branches. The homage to Barbusse, a French veteran and member of the French Communist Party until his death in Moscow in 1935 and an author inevitably outlawed by Hitler's Reich, shows the extent of Dix's uncompromising political opposition to the regime as it again prepared for war. The literary allusion helps to specify the subject - no longer the carnage, but the flooding of the trenches, which made fighting impossible and forced soldiers from both sides to flee their dugouts with no thoughts of killing each other. During the night they sought shelter out of the water's reach. At dawn, they discovered that they were close to one another. Barbusse wrote: "It had now become an uncanny field of rest. The ground was dotted with beings sleeping or gently stirring, lifting an arm, raising their heads, coming back to life or else dying. The enemy trench finally collapsed in on itself at the bottom of great undulations and swamped shell-holes spiked with mud, and formed a line of puddles and wells. In places, you could actually see it moving, breaking up and slipping over the edges still overhanging (...) All these men with cadaverous faces in front of us and behind us, exhausted, drained of speech and all will, all these men weighed down with mud, almost carrying their own burial, looked like each other, as if they were naked. From both sides, men came out of that dreadful night wearing exactly the same uniform of destitution and dirt."