The German painter Otto Dix began his artistic training in Dresden, the centre of Expressionist activity, after being awarded a scholarship in 1909 to study at the Kunstgewerbeschule. There, in addition to soaking up the influence of the Expressionist movements, he studied the works of the German and Italian Renaissance masters in the city’s museums. In 1914 he enlisted voluntarily to fight in the First World War, the horrors of which he later expressed in his work. He studied at the Akademie für Bildende Künste in Dresden from 1919 to 1922 and was one of the founders of the Dresdner Sezession Gruppe 1919, a radical group of Expressionist and Dadaist writers and artists.

From 1922 to 1925 Dix lived in Düsseldorf, where he married Martha Koch and was involved with Johanna Ey’s avant-garde gallery. His work became infused with violent social criticism, and he revived the Renaissance medium of tempera on panel as a means of achieving a bitingly realistic style of painting. In 1925 he was among the painters whose work was shown in the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) exhibition in Mannheim. At the end of the year Dix, encouraged by the gallery owner Karl Nierendorf, spent a period in Berlin, where he achieved huge fame as a painter of society portraits. Berlin, a modern metropolis, was then experiencing one of the most creative and innovative periods in its history, which was soon followed by the decline brought by the advent of National Socialism.

In 1926 Dix was appointed a professor of the Akademie für Bildende Künste in Dresden and during this period painted some of his most ambitious works, such as the triptych Metropolis, 1927–28 (Stuttgart, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart), a fierce criticism of bourgeois society. With the advent of Nazism, Dix lost his teaching job in Dresden and his works were confiscated and included in the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition. He did not abandon Germany but retired to Hemmenhofen, by Lake Constance, where he devoted himself to painting landscapes and religious themes in a style close to that of Albrecht Altdorfer.

Dix was conscripted again in 1945 and taken prisoner by the French army in Colmar. After being freed he returned to Germany, where he spent the rest of his life as a painter.