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'Der Matrose Fritz Müller aus Pieschen' : a Dada painting by Otto Dix


Anno: 2016

in: Painting Techniques: history, materials and studio practice, 5th International Symposium, Rijksmuseum 18-20 September 2013

a cura di: A. Wallert


Der Matrose Fritz Müller aus Pieschen (The Sailor Fritz Muller of Pieschen) by Otto Dix is an unconventional reinterpretation of the portrait theme in a Dadaist style.

The painting assumes a naïve and ironically humorous character, with the face of the protagonist painted in profile in an almost giant scale against a deep blue background, representing the sea to which the sailor owes his living. From the background, memories of the continents he has visited emerge like islands, while the strong link to his native country is symbolized by a fragment of road map of Pieschen, placed suggestively on the back of the sailor’s head.

The painting was forwarded to the ISCR for a series of investigations and conservation treatments, with the primary objective of solving stress problems in the support, largely originated from Dix’s unusual system of hanging the painting from a corner. The planning of the restoration was backed by a broad diagnostic survey carried out with multi-spectral analysis, optical and electron microscopy on micro-samples, and infra-red spectroscopy, thus giving the opportunity of in-depth study of the artist’s original and little-known execution technique.

Dated 1919, the work is an oil painting on canvas, but the technique is made complicated by the use of collage, inserting atypical elements from everyday life into the composition, such as the fragment of road map and the buttons and shells glued to the frame, which here is conceived as an integral component of the painting. Interested by events in the commercial market, Dix also uses industrially synthesised pigments, pieces of aluminium leaf and manufactured reflective “glitter” which was formerly used only in decorative applications and now for the first time is applied in a work of art.

In keeping with the rebellious spirit of Dadaism momentarily embraced by Dix at this stage, in this way he overcomes the limits of nineteenth-century academic formalism and makes everyday life the very matter of art.