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"War" by Otto Dix analysis

Date: 1929 – 1932

Central panel: 204 x 204 cm. 80 x 80 in

204 x 102 cm each.

Historical context :

Otto Dix is a German painter who voluntarily joined the conflict of the First World War as a soldier. He comes back very rebellious and pacifist. He is also very shocked by the horror and inhumanity of this war.

This artist created his work between 1929 and 1932, at a time when nationalist ideas were resurfacing in Germany and people were beginning to forget the terrible suffering brought by the war. Otto Dix therefore wanted to recall them


Description :

Left Panel: In the foreground we see a group of soldiers in combat gear: with weapons, helmets and large backpacks. We don't see their faces. We have the impression of a troop going to war. They move into a brown where they disappear and seem to get lost. We notice in the background that the sky is heavy with black and red, which portends violence.

Central panel: In the foreground we notice the representation of carnage: we see blood, many corpses piled up, overturned and abandoned, disorder, dirt. One has holes in his legs, and another holds out his hand with his stomach open. They are completely destroyed, deteriorated. We also notice A man appearing alive with a gas mask, as well as a helmet, watching the death scene. He seems petrified. We can't see his face. Above, we see a skeleton. He is depicted as if he was flying. He has a finger pointing at the pile of corpses, the blood... . We also see a burned tree trunk.

In the background we can see destroyed cities, ruins, holes, no trace of life. The sky is overcast, we can see smoke.

Lower panel: We notice bodies lying next to each other, we don't know if these people are alive or dead. They are in a sort of box and a sort of sheet hovers over them.

Right Panel: We see a man, from the front, dressed in white, carrying another human who appears injured. They do not have any military uniform, or it is incomplete. The man walks among bodies on the ground (disfigured and dead men). Around him the land is dilapidated, we can still see holes in the ground. We see a black tree behind the man. The sky in the background is dark and red.


Plastic analysis:

• The painting is painted in triptych, which is read from left to right then down, like a kind of story. It is made with paint on wood. This work recalls The Isenheim Altarpiece by Mathias GRÜNEWALD, a Renaissance work. The latter is also a question of death and suffering ( Crucifixion of Christ in the center).

• There is contrast. Particularly in the left panel with the man in white and the black background. Otto Dix usually uses shades of brown/red. Brown is also the dominant color, the brown of the earth. Red is used in particular for the stormy sky. The colors are dark, but we can see points of light in certain places like in the central panel.

There is a line of force in this painting. It is located in the main panel, it is the skeleton which points to the piled up corpses.


art expert
WAR by Otto Dix


Left panel: Men equipped with helmets and weapons, so they are soldiers. We don’t see their faces  no more individuals, no more humanity. The blood-red sky alludes to the place of combat. These are then soldiers going into combat, to death. We see that these men advance in the mist, and that we see them less and less - death takes them away.

Central panel: Again the image of death with the skeleton in the air which shows the dead  death always present. We see that a soldier extends his hand as if to grab something: hand on a white background  looking for help in a universe without humanity. The only living soldier observes this man but remains motionless, he does not move, does not react  No more humanity. The destroyed bodies, opened, the blood strongly recalls the carnage, and the violence of death. The holes on the ground at the bottom probably caused by shells. Dilapidated cities  Carnage of war.

Right panel: Living man highlighted by white on the dark, black/red background. This man is not dressed in uniform. We see his face (self-portrait of the artist?). He carries a wounded person - a symbol of humanism. White = hope in a world where death is everywhere. The trunk behind the “savior” as well as this man recalls Christ carrying his cross. Christ/Savior who carries his cross; He carries what will lead him to death = the savior who helps a man; which will lead to his death. Black and red sky, showing horror, and combat, as well as death and hell.

Lower panel: Body in a sort of vault  A tomb? A trench ? Are these men alive and dead? They are locked up and cannot free themselves: no life possible.


Conclusion :

This work is a hyper realistic reconstruction of the carnage and the battlefields. It very intensely shows the horror and violence of war through the presence of blood, corpses and dark colors. We also realize that death is everywhere. The author denounces the barbarity and absurdity of war. Otto Dix painted himself as the savior because he warns us against these atrocities. It highlights what combat really is: Suffering, loneliness, dirt and horror. © Fine Art Expertises LLC


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