Horrors, hallucinations, pity and prostheses: German artists and the First World War

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book

Abstract

The German avant-garde’s enthusiastic embrace of war in 1914 soon evaporated when the realities of trench warfare shattered their naive beliefs in a Nietzschean-inspired promise of longed-for cultural renewal. Many artists returned from war completely transformed by its unimaginable horrors. Amongst them were Otto Dix, George Grosz and Heinrich Hoerle, for whom art’s sole purpose could now only be in the service of revolution. Yet their interpretations of ‘revolution’ ranging from political to erotic are inevitably inflected by their sensory responses which will be explored comparatively in this essay, alongside the gendered responses to war in the work of Käthe Kollwitz, who lost her youngest son, Peter, during the conflict. Central to the essay will be an extended consideration of Die Krüppelmappe (The Cripples Portfolio) by Heinrich Hoerle. The Cripples Portfolio (1920) consists of twelve delicately executed lithographs calling for ‘Help for the Crippled’ (Helft dem Kruppel) and drawing attention to the plight of the individual war-wounded soldiers seeking to re-integrate themselves into a society and an economy unable and unwilling to properly support them after their bitter defeat. Maimed and wounded veterans are shown in different roles: seeking comfort from loved ones; begging on the streets; haunted by missing limbs, mired in nightmares of exaggerated sexual fantasies; engulfed in both physical and psychological loss and received with fear and horror by those around them. The portfolio preceded both Otto Dix’s better known visceral responses to the First World War in Der Krieg and Käthe Kollwitz’s melancholic Krieg cycle, by four years. This essay will explore how Hoerle’s experiences of war are mediated through his graphic visual responses to it in Die Krüppelmappe and how they mutate in his painting leading to his monumental Drei Invaliden of ten years later, in 1930. The essay will also ask to what extent individual sensory experience is used for radical political affect in the work of many artists of the German avant-garde during this period, as also represented through the works of Grosz, Felixmüller and others on display in the exhibition.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Sensory War 1914-2014
Subtitle of host publicationExhibition Catalogue
EditorsAna Carden-Coyne, Tim Wilcox
Place of PublicationManchester City Galleries
PublisherManchester Art Gallery
Pages44-50
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)978-0-901673
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2014
EventThe Sensory War 1914-2014 - Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Oct 201425 Jan 2015

Exhibition

ExhibitionThe Sensory War 1914-2014
CountryUnited Kingdom
CityManchester
Period3/10/1425/01/15

Keywords

  • Sensory War, First World War, German Art, Printmaking, Der Krieg, Disabled war veterans

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  • Cite this

    Price, D. C. (2014). Horrors, hallucinations, pity and prostheses: German artists and the First World War. In A. Carden-Coyne, & T. Wilcox (Eds.), The Sensory War 1914-2014: Exhibition Catalogue (pp. 44-50). Manchester Art Gallery.