Germany 1891 – 1969
Totentanz anno 17 (Hohe Toter Mann) [Dance of death 1917 - Dead Man's Hill], plate 19 from Der Krieg
1917 Description: plate 19 from the portfolio Der Krieg [War], a portfolio of 50 prints in 5 parts, plus 1 additional print
Place made: Berlin, Germany
Materials & Technique: prints, Intaglio etching, aquatint and drypoint, printed in black ink. Support: BSB-Maschinen-Butten
Manufacturer's Mark: BSB
Edition: ed 58/70
Publisher: VERLAG KARL NIERENDORF
Place Published: Berlin
Date Published: 1924
The dramatic power of this image relies almost entirely on the tonal contrasts realised through a technique known as aquatint. Dix recalled:
I suddenly got very interested in etching. I had a lot to say, I had a subject. Wash off the acid, put on the aquatint: a wonderful technique that you can use to get as many different shades and tones as you want. The 'doing' aspect of art becomes tremendously interesting when you start doing etchings; you get to be a real alchemist.
In aquatinting, particles of rosin are dusted onto the etching plate and fused to it by heating, the acid biting the plate between them to give an even tone. Here Dix aimed for four main tones: white, two greys, and black. Given Dix's subject matter, a comparison with Henri Matisse's painting Dance 1910 may seem bizarre, but it does work to convince us that what the artist achieved here truly is a Danse macabre; a dance of death.
See Matisse's painting Dance 1910 at hermitagemuseum.org
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra