OTTO DIX (1891-1969)
etching, 1920, on cream wove paper, signed, dated and titled in pencil, a fine proof impression printed with much plate tone, before the edition of twenty numbered impressions published by Heinar Schilling, Dresdner Verlag, Dresden
Plate 297 x 257 mm.
Sheet 501 x 325 mm.
Karsch 14
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Lot Essay

A collection’s many journeys
The works in this family collection were carefully brought together by a passionate collector and enthusiast of the arts over a period of almost thirty years, starting in the early 1960s. German art of the 1920s was at the heart of the collector’s interest, and included the social satire of George Grosz and Otto Dix, as well as important works of the Neue Sachlichkeit, Dada and Constructivism. Most of the artists represented in this collection, who had lived through the horrors of World War I and established themselves as artists during the Weimar Republic, found themselves defamed as ‘degenerate’ by the Nazi regime. Some were driven into exile, such as George Grosz, and many of those who remained in Germany were banned from working. Otto Freundlich (see lot 77) was murdered at Sobibor concentration camp on the day of his arrival in 1943.
Much of the artists’ work had to be hidden from the ‘Entartete Kunst’-purge, and many of the paintings, works on paper and prints in this collection are rare survivors of this feverish and fascinating, yet doomed period of German art.
Amongst the printed works, the etchings and drypoints of Otto Dix stand at the centre of the collection, oscillating – therein representative of the collector’s wider tastes and choices – between unsparing realism, fierce social criticism, collage-like elements inspired by the Dada-movement, and the surreal and the grotesque, all served up with a generous dose of black humour (also see lots 78 and 80-89).
The works in this outstanding collection were bought after much consideration from a few trusted gallerists, occasionally at auction and, whenever possible, from the artists themselves. Some emerging artists of the post-war period, for example Friedensreich Hundertwasser (lot 91), were supported with occasional purchases of a work, but above all with boundless generosity and hospitality. The collector would drive through the night across Germany and Switzerland to visit artist friends, attend museum openings or see auction previews. Each new purchase was shown to the family and explained and discussed before finding its place on the walls of the family home.
This was not investment, this was a ceaseless passion. The collection was to be enjoyed amongst friends and family at home, but also by the general public – no museum loan request was declined, and as the reputation of the rarities in this private collection grew, more museum loan requests would follow. There was a constant stream of shippers arriving at the door collecting loans for museums across Germany and the United States. The collection’s journey has continued for another thirty years in the hands of the collector’s family after his passing. Some of the masterpieces in the collection found their way to prestigious museum collections, while others are now being sold, so that they can continue on the next phase of their journey.

In his early work, inspired by the horrors of World War I and the miseries of the post-war period, Otto Dix never shied away from the most drastic depictions of cruelty and depravity, and his etching Lustmörder is perhaps the most absurdly macabre work of his entire printed oeuvre. In a cartoonish style, he depicts a sex murderer in a frenzy of bloodlust. Dressed as a dandy in a plaid suit with a tie and white spats over his shiny shoes, he stands wide-legged in a bourgeois living room. His arms are raised, as if in triumph, with one hand wielding a kitchen knife, the other a severed leg. Scattered across the room are the other remains of his victim: the dismembered torso of a woman on the floor, her severed head and limbs still squirting blood. His eyes crazed, he grins widely with pointy teeth, clearly pleased with his butchery. This is the stuff of nightmares - and of the sensationalist newpaper reports of serial murders. During the early 1920s, the disappearance of women, many of whom driven to prostitution by poverty, was not an uncommon occurence in post-war Germany. The serial killer Carl Großmann for example is thought to have massacred up to fifty women in Berlin between 1918 and 1921. Although Otto Dix's print predates Großmann's arrest by a year, rumours and news of femicides would have been part of the atmosphere of the time. Dix himself, who had seen the slaughter on the battlefields in Flanders himself, would have also understood how the war had left men brutalised and emotionally crippled by the mass killings they had experienced and been ordered to commit. It is in the context of the war and its aftermath that this print is best understood. It stands alongside a number of prints depicting 'war cripples', men disfigured and mained in the war, beggars, prostitutes, a 'Syphilitic' (see lot 80) - figures which populated the streets of German cities after World War I. A ruthless satirist rather than a moralist, Dix exposes the breakdown of civilisation brought about by the war, in his wildly graphic - and often viciously funny - prints of the early 20's, and in Lustmörder he is not afraid of casting himself as the perpetrator.

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