The Wasteland

Flanders. 1934-36. Oil on canvas. 78x98 in. Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen in Berlin.

Flanders. 1934-36. Oil on canvas. 78×98 in. Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen in Berlin.

Otto Dix’s Flanders uses dark imagery, a still and somber tone, as well as color to both remind viewers of the horrors of World War I and attempt to prevent another war.

Flanders depicts an abandoned and destroyed battlefield. At first glance, the foreground appears to be dirt mounds; however, upon a closer look, the dirt mounds are actually bodies of fallen soldiers, painted in the same brownish-greenish color as the dirt. They seem to blend right into the dirt. There are three bodies. The main body is sitting down, leaning against a post that covered with—what appears to be—either vines or barbed wires and white cloth tatters. On either side of the body are two other bodies, both curled up in the fetal position and leaning in the same direction as the main body.

Other corpses are apparent on the marshland in the background. The land portion is covered with mounds (corpses) and more posts and dead trees, all with the vines/barbed wire and tattered cloths hanging from them. The water is blue and yellow, due to the sun’s reflection, and it is stagnant. Overall, the scene is very still; the only indication of movement is the sky where there are clouds that look like smoke. The sky is a darker blue on the right side of the painting, and as it moves to the left it becomes a lighter blue and eventually a pale yellow. However, on the left side of the sky there is a prominent splash of red in the sky, like blood. In addition, the moon can be seen on the right side of the horizon, indicating that the sun is setting and the day is ending.

Otto Dix served as in the artillery unit and the machine-gun unit for the German army in World War I. In 1917, he was stationed at Flanders, but he did not paint Flanders until 1934-36—the dawn of World War I. His war experience combined with the historical context of the painting’s portrayal—perhaps even a memory—indicates that he was very much against another war.

Due to the imagery, tone, and color, death is a very prominent theme in the painting. The bodies are only recently dead, still resembling a potentially-recognizable human face instead of a decomposed skull. A face is more personal, reminding the viewer that the effects of World War I are still fresh in history’s memory—the bodies haven’t even had time to decay and the world is already rushing to a new war. The color of the dirt and the bodies are the same—the bodies blend in with the earth, perhaps indicating disappearance and erasure or possibly how the dead alter the land.

The corpses are still, the water is stagnant, the tatters are hanging limply—the lack of movement creates a very haunting and somber tone. The only movement comes from the sky. In the distance, smoke rises into the sky, resembling a cloud—smoke symbolizing combustion, destruction, death, transformation. Change is on the horizon. In addition, the sky is changing color to demonstrate the change in time. The sun is setting with red clouds—a day of death is dying. The change in the sky—or, symbolically, in time—only exacerbates how frozen and quiet the death on land is.

The painting’s haunting use of imagery, tone, and color creates a very dismal picture of war’s effects in attempt to prevent such destruction from happening again.

Sources

Otto Dix. Flanders. 1934-36. Photograph. Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.German History in Documents and Images. German Historical Institute. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

“Otto Dix.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

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