Dix’s early work illustrates the renewed interest of the expressionists in their cultural patrimony. This painting pays homage to past masters of the German and Flemish Renaissance in its composition and technical execution. Painted with a glaze technique in which oil and tempera paint are applied in thin, translucent layers, the luminous surface also permitted precise graphic detail. The spare, formal rendering of the young man is enlivened by the intensity of his penetrating gaze.
Artist Otto Dix, German, 1891-1969
  • Self Portrait
Date 1912
Medium Oil on paper mounted on poplar panel
Dimensions Unframed: 29 × 19 1/2 inches (73.7 × 49.5 cm)
Framed: 34 5/8 × 25 1/2 × 3 1/2 inches (87.9 × 64.8 × 8.9 cm)
Credit Line Gift of Robert H. Tannahill
Accession Number 51.65
Department European Modern Art to 1950
On View Modern N230.2, Level 2 (see map)
Signed Signed and dated, upper left: DIX | 1912
until 1925, Graphischese Kabinett (Erfurt, Germany);
May 1, 1925-August 1937, purchase by Kunstmuseum Dusseldorf (Dusseldorf, Germany).
1937, confiscated by the German National Socialist (Nazi) government as “degenerate art.”
1938, (Galerie Ferdinand Möller, Berlin, Germany);
January 1938-1951, purchased by Robert H. Tannahill [1893-1969] (Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, USA);
1951-present, gift to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Twentieth Century Portraits. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art. New York, 1943, p. 70 (ill.).

Haass, Lillian Henkel and William A. Bostick. "Annual Report of the Founders Society." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 31, no. 2 (1951–1952): pp. 44, 49.

Löffler, Fritz. Otto Dix: Leben und Werk. Dresden, 1960, p. 303, pl. 1 (ill.).

Selected Works from the Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1979, p. 227, no. 178 (ill.).

Löffler, Fritz. Otto Dix 1891–1969: Oeuvre der Gemälde. Recklinghausen, 1981, pp. 10, 78, 300, no. 1912/3 (ill.).

Uhr, Horst. Masterpieces of German Expressionism at the Detroit Institute of Arts. New York, 1982, p. 62 (ill.).

100 Masterworks from the Detroit Institute of Arts. New York, 1985, pp. 214-215 (ill.).

Robinson, William H. "Otto Dix's 'Portrait of Josef May.'" Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 74, no. 8 (October 1987): 306–331, pp. 306–307 (ill.).

Wilkinson, MaryAnn. "'A Great Simplicity of Form': Two Works by Paula Modersohn-Becker." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 80, no. 1/2 (2006): 28–35, p. 33 (ill.).

Beal, Graham W.J. and Debra N. Mancoff. Treasures of the DIA. Detroit, 2007, p. 381, no. 305 (ill.).

Keyes, George. "Portraiture—Mirror or Mask?" Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 83, no. 1/4 (2009): 4–11, pp. 10–11 (ill.).