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The Art of JAMA
January 8, 2014

Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden: Otto Dix

JAMA. 2014;311(2):120-121. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.279264

The coarse features, garish coloring, and confrontational tone of Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden are unmistakably the work of the German painter and printmaker Otto Dix (1891-1969). Dix and von Harden were regulars at the Romanisches Café, where artsy Berliners went to see and be seen. According to von Harden, Dix introduced himself one evening and asked to paint her portrait because she was the living image of the Neue Frau, the prototypical career woman of 1920s Berlin. Von Harden had all the attributes of a Neue Frau—she had made a name for herself as a poet and film critic, she was a woman about town, and she looked the part. In the portrait she wears her hair in a trendy bob and smokes a Russian cigarette. The cigarette pack, inscribed with her name, is a telling accessory. In 1920s Germany, young women who smoked cigarettes were pushing the boundaries of social decorum. Most smokers were upper-class men or laborers—certainly not matrons of the bourgeoisie.