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August 2004

Otto Dix (1891-1969): Frau mit Kind (1921)

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004;158(8):720. doi:10.1001/archpedi.158.8.720

It is one of the oldest themes in Western art: a mother and child, posed formally, facing the viewer. In many such paintings, the mother is the Virgin Mary and the child is the baby Jesus. But even in religious treatments of the subject, artists had no way of knowing what Mary and Jesus really looked like, so they commonly drew on the appearance of women and children of their own time and place.

What Otto Dix saw around him in 1921 was a bleak Germany in the aftermath of World War I. Dix himself had fought as an artilleryman and had been gassed and wounded in the ghastly trench warfare that claimed millions of young men. He survived, but the memories haunted him for the rest of his life. On his return to Dresden, he found that countless victims of the war were noncombatants; women and children struggled to get by in the face of poverty, food shortages, fractured families, and moral decay.

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