This wouldn’t be a very honest thread of posts if I only focused on when the plus size body was glorified. In an art movement called Neue Sachlichkeit (meaning New Objectivity) women in general were showcased as ugly, devilish beings. They are read throughout this paintings as witch like creatures or over indulgent gluttons. So why exactly did this happen?
Let’s begin by adding a little background so we can fully understand why artists working within this moment did such a thing. Neue Sachlichkeit art began around the 1920s, just as the age of expressionism (think Munch’s the Scream) began to lose its delight in causing viewers to ‘feel’ so many emotions from a canvas. You might think I’m being sarcastic here but I’m really not. Colours have a deeply universal effect on how we read a painting and this was a lot of what expressionism based its ideas on.
Neue Sachlichkeit art began in Germany and directly rejected the idea of romantic idealism. Neue Sachlichkeit can also be translated as ‘New Matter-of-factness’ or ‘New-Sobriety’. It’s an art movement that offers a horrific reality in comparison to the dream like state of previous works.
One of the main movers and shakers of this movement was an artist named Otto Dix (the name speaks for itself) and his work Three Wenches, from 1926 is the piece I’d like to focus on in this post.
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Dix was a man fascinated with sex, in this image there is no other way to take his view. We as the observer are completely and uncontrollably gazed at by one woman in the picture. It’s clear this work is derived from an experience in a brothel and Dix is reflecting his blatant experiences on canvas for all to see. There are so many interesting things about this painting. Firstly, the title itself – ‘Three Wenches’ – harks back to names in the Renaissance, usually the ‘Three Graces’. Dix, you saucy devil thinking you could get away with that! Audience members would have understood this nod to the past and quite frankly would have been offended by it. He further looks back to the Renaissance by using a specific material. It’s Oil and Tempera on Wood, which is perhaps the most Renaissance a man could get.
Onto the figures. We have 3 ladies tightly crammed into a very small canvas frame. Firstly, let’s just state NONE of these women are supposed to look flattering, Dix wanted to shock and engage his audience. There is a body represented here for ‘every perverse taste’ as Artnet claimed. The stained cheeks of the lady in the back along with the stale pink stockings on the ginger gal at the front almost give us a scent of what this room was like. All of these items playing to our senses are to further enhance our opinion of these women as dirty and repugnant.
One thing I only recently noticed in this piece is even the display of stretch marks (hey we’ve all got them!) But our friend at the back displays them on her upper thighs and around her breasts. It’s almost as if Dix was showcasing that prostitutes were stretching society with their grotesque indulgence.
I used to hate this painting, find it deeply offensive and just ugly to look at. But now I feel fascinated by it, drawn to each element. Whether it be a chunk on the ladies leg, the ribs sticking out of our winking girl in the middle or the blush stained cheeks of the lass in the back. Each time I find something else to look at. It’s an interesting way to observe how women were reflected on each time. I suppose a lot more is to be deduced from the surroundings in this work as opposed to one individual figure. I’ll take it Dix. Ta.