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Nelly among Flowers

Otto Dix1924

Museum Folkwang

Museum Folkwang

As art historian Willi Wolfradt noted in 1924: "He is fascinated by his young child at the moment, and his hard style gives way to subtle, clear transparency when he paints, etches, draws her. When it comes to Dix, one might be prepared for anything—and yet, surprises are still to come. He requires ample latitude, and extravagance runs in his blood." Otto Dix painted this first portrait of his daughter Nelly in Blumen (Nelly among Flowers) in the summer of 1924. Already published in books during the same year, the work has always been considered one of the incunabula representing the period of the Post-Expressionist painting style. It counts among the most frequently reproduced paintings of the nineteen-twenties. Considering Dix’s oeuvre as a whole, Nelly in Blumen is an unusual picture— free from the artist’s cynical, satirical, at times, drastic visual narratives that were, oftentimes, especially influenced by the war. No traces of the dramatic events of the mid-twenties are to be found here. The artist’s one-year-old daughter meanders alone like a dreamy but also alert child through a dense sweep of flowers enveloped by nature and felicity. And yet, the perception of an ostensible idyll is associated with the characteristic ambiguity so frequently found in Dix’s works. Frozen into a portrait of a doll, the face reflects both age and childhood at once—expressed here is not only a childlike nature, but also a strong sense of concentration, what almost seems like dramatic benevolence. As an astute observer of human qualities, Dix steps beyond the actual dimension of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) and its formal directness through this romantic sentiment and genuineness he felt for Nelly. A deeply felt appreciation of academic painting in every sense of materiality is especially well developed in this painting. Comparable to Dutch still-life painting, each detail is painstakingly presented. At the same time, the young girl with the flower is compellingly reminiscent of Philipp Otto Runge’s Die Hülsenbeckschen Kinder (The Hülsenbeck Children). Such stylistic "recourse" to art history on the part of Dix, sometimes going all the way back to the time of Albrecht Dürer and Albrecht Altdorfer, is not unusual for the artist. Quite the contrary: we encounter it as a purposefully invoked, interpretive attribute of Dix’s art, similar to the strategy of referencing through painting technique. The works of Dix thus, engage in a historicizing mode, but they also come to embody a sense of illumination through the excessive parallel existence of Expressionism, which is linked to the desire to show a somewhat different kind of reality and hence a different objectivity.

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Details

  • Title: Nelly among Flowers
  • Creator: Otto Dix
  • Date: 1924
  • Physical Dimensions: w55,5 x h81 cm
  • Copyrights: VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017
  • Collection: Painting, Sculpture, Media Art
  • Provenance: Acquired in 1994 with the support of the Eugen-und-Agnes-von-Waldthausen-Platzhoff-Museums-Stiftung, North Rhine-Westphalia, and the Folkwang-Museumsverein
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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