We use cookies on this website, you can read about them here. To use the website as intended please... ACCEPT COOKIES
UAL Research Online

From Fashion Icon to Incarnation of the Abject: Anita Berber and Otto Dix

Reimers, Anne (2014) From Fashion Icon to Incarnation of the Abject: Anita Berber and Otto Dix. In: Vile Women: Female Evil in Fact, Fiction and Mythology. Inter-Disciplinary Press, Oxford. ISBN 9781848882881

Type of Research: Book Section
Creators: Reimers, Anne

Between 1917 and 1923, photographs of the dancer, actor and ‘It-girl’ Anita Berber appeared regularly in the popular Berlin fashion magazine Die Dame, which was aimed at an affluent bourgeois audience. In 1925, the German painter Otto Dix, known for his harsh, realist style and interest in the grotesque, painted her famous portrait, ‘The Dancer Anita Berber.’ It showed a dangerous and evil rather than attractive looking woman, her face a deathly mask, with eyes bloodshot from excessive use of cocaine, morphine and absinthe. The painting reflects the fact that by 1925, Anita Berber had fallen from the status of a celebrated, fashionable dancer to that of a ‘Priestess of Depravity,’ infamous for her nude dances, drug use, and scandalous outfits and for such roles as Salomé and other ‘evil’ women. Following her death in 1928, at 29, the Film-Kurier, after describing her as an ‘incarnation of the perverse,’ wrote that she represented a generation. This chapter will briefly introduce Berber’s life and work and look at early media representations in the fashion magazine Die Dame before focusing on a discussion of Otto Dix’s portrait in relationship to contemporary writing about Berber and Dix from Béla Balázs to Willi Wolfradt and Dix’s own later statements about painting. It will argue that Dix uses specific tropes of early 1920s fashionability from the ‘vampiric’ to the ‘animalesque’ in the painting. It will evaluate the extent to which the types of dangerous femininity Berber enacted both on stage and in life are reflected in her portrait, a painting which exaggerates her decaying body, and the threatening and abject qualities of her appearance. Psychoanalytical theories on masks of femininity by Joan Riviere and Julia Kristeva’s conception of the ‘abject’ will be applied to understand these notions of femininity. The aim is to evaluate the visual impact and dialectics of an image in which Dix applies old-masterly painting techniques to the portrait of a contemporary celebrity. The chapter will conclude that Berber and Dix formed a tactical alliance, in which he used her notoriety for his own ends while she simultaneously cemented her status as an icon of the Weimar epoch.

Additional Information (Publicly available):

This chapter was republished in the book: Transgressive Womanhood: Investigating Vamps, Witches, Whores, Serial Killers and Monsters, ed. by Manon Hedenborg-White and Bridget Sandhoff (Leiden: Brill, 2019).

Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: Anita Berber, Otto Dix, Joan Riviere, Julia Kristeva, 1920s portrait painting, Die Dame, 1920s Berlin, the abject, ugliness, cruelty.
Publisher/Broadcaster/Company: Inter-Disciplinary Press
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Fashion
Date: 2014
Related Publications: Transgressive Womanhood: Investigating Vamps, Witches, Whores, Serial Killers and Monsters
Date Deposited: 18 Oct 2021 12:39
Last Modified: 18 Oct 2021 12:39
Item ID: 17327
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/17327

Repository Staff Only: item control page | University Staff: Request a correction