When a client refused to pay for his daughter’s portrait because he judged it a poor likeness, Dix called upon attorney Hugo Simons, who won his case in the name of freedom of artistic expression. In gratitude, Dix made him this extraordinary portrait. An exponent of the German New Objectivity movement, Dix denounced the social malaise and decadent pessimism of the Weimar Republic. If he retained the violence of Expressionism, he disciplined his painting by a thorough concern for objectivity and precision, following the example of Italian and Northern Renaissance masters. Dix experimented with an old-fashioned a technique used by the Old Masters for this panel: egg tempera covered with an oil glaze. In this warm portrait, devoid of caricature, the painter’s memory retraces the essence of his model. Here, the hand gesture, the alertness of the face, the maroon of the suit and the coppery red of the background transcribe the lawyer’s oratorical intensity. Everyone has a colour, according to Dix. Condemned by the Nazis as a degenerate artist, Dix was forced to quit teaching, but he stayed in Germany and embarked on an “interior emigration.” At odds with the regime and stripped of citizenship, Simons and his family – along with this painting – sought refuge in Montreal.
© Estate of Otto Dix / SOCAN (2020)