Following the opening night performance of Cabaret, actor Alan Cumming (Emcee) surprised and awed the guests of the opening night bash. Inspired by German artist Otto Dix, Cumming emerged from his dressing room as the subject of one of Dix’s most famous paintings, Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926). Brandishing a red-checkered jumpsuit, a monocle fixed over his right eye, a cigarette holder and slicked-back hair, the Cabaret star looked almost identical to the 1926 painting. In an interview with NPR, Alan explained, “ I decided that I would do my own thing and have a modern interpretation of an image that is very much an inspiration for the production. We have those images of Otto Dix all over the walls, and [George] Grosz and all those painters. ... I'm going to go as that painting.” The portrait, a mixed media work on wood, is currently housed at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris. At the time of its creation, Dix had just been discharged from service in World War I and was working in Dresden during the Weimar Republic of Germany.
Dix was born on December 2, 1891 in Untermhaus, Germany to Franz and Louise Dix. He was exposed to art at an early age, and often spent time in the studio of his cousin, painter Fritz Amann. After an apprenticeship with painter Carl Senff from 1906–10, Dix entered the Kunstgewerbeschule (Academy of Applied Arts) in Dresden where he studied until the advent of the First World War.
After a dutiful service in the German army, he was discharged from service in 1918, shortly after suffering a traumatic neck wound. Much of Dix’s work upon returning to Dresden represented the nightmares of war. Working with etchings and developing the old style of realistic painting with thin oil paint glazes of tempera underpaintings, Dix continued painting throughout the Weimar Republic and took a post as an art teacher at the Dresden Academy.
Once the Nazis took control of Germany, Dix was forced to join the government’s Reichskammer der bildenden Kuenste (Reich Chamber of Fine Arts) and he promised to paint only inoffensive landscapes. However, the commonly regarded “degenerate artist” secretly produced more than 1,500 allegorical paintings detailing life under the Nazi regime and the sufferings of war in Germany. George Grosz, one of Dix’s contemporaries, also drew inspiration from the degenerate politics of war-torn Germany within pen-and-ink caricatures.
It wasn’t until after World War II that Dix started receiving recognition for his work. In 1959, he was awarded the Großes Verdienstkreuz (Grand Merit Cross of the Federal Republic of Germany). During his life he also received the Lichtwark Prize in Hamburg (1967), the Martin Andersen Nexo Art Prize in Dresdon (1967), the Hans Thoma Prize (1967), and the Rembrandt Prize of the Goethe Foundation in Salzburg (1968). On July 25, 1969, Dix died of a stroke in Singen am Hohentwiel, Germany.
Dix is best known for his paintings Metropolis (1928) and Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926), but his art can be found all over the world in museums in Germany, France, and the United States. With an affliction for the catastrophic and violent, his psychologically driven depictions of Germany have coined him one of the most important artists of the Weimar Republic. Visit the Neue Galerie in New York before September 1 to see similar works seized from museums and private collections during the Nazi era at the exhibition titled, Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937.
Cabaret plays at Studio 54 through January 4, 2015. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.
2013-2014 Season, Cabaret