Portrait of Journalist Sylvia von Harden
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Androgyny is in for Sylvia von harden and Otto Dix.

This portrait is the product of what sounds like the set up to your least favorite of your dad’s Thanksgiving dinner-table-type jokes: so a painter passes a a journalist outside a bar and he says, “I must paint you! I simply are representative of an entire epoch.” And so the journalist goes, she goes, “So you want to paint my lacklustre eyes, my ornate ears, my long nose, my thin lips; you want to paint my long hands, my short legs, my big feet...which can only scare people off and delight no one?” hahaha lol jk. The painting is the punchline.

To her point, Dix definitely didn’t make Sylvia von Harden look cute or ideal in any way. If the affected monocle didn’t scare you off from walking over to her bar table for a friendly chat the scowl probably did. If you’re imagining her voice sounds like the Monopoly man’s you’re only a little wrong. She wrote for a communist newspaper, so she’s sort of anti-capitalist and anti-monopoly, but Dix heightened her androgyny so she’s not not anything really. She is the New Woman: professionally ambitious, cigarette smoking, boyishly dressed, unafraid of solitude. Dix might have been interested in the New Woman, but he isn’t necessarily supportive of her choices, there’s nothing flattering about anything in the portrait.

Otto Dix is maybe a bag of misogynistic dix? But apparently this is his least-unflattering portrait of a New Woman, von Harden is not depicted as a whore, which is nice. She apparently liked the portrait, later in life she traveled to Paris to be photographed next to it in the Musée National d’Art Moderne (now the George Pompidou Center).

Maybe the real punchline of the joke is that the New Woman became a tidy little ad campaign when her subversive gender-bending proclivities were assimilated into standard, reproduction-oriented gender roles, just a new way to sell clothes or whatever else. And meanwhile von Harden had exiled herself in England where she was going broke and gunning for the grave. Like I said, it’s not a good joke.




  1. Berger, Renate. Translated by Karen Goulding. “Harden, Sylvia von.” Dictionary of Artists’ Models. Edited by Jill Berk Jiminez. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2001, page 263. Accessed May 21, 2018.
  2. Berkowitz, Elizabeth. “Otto Dix’z Sylvia von Harden.” Artsy. March 5, 2013. Accessed May 21, 2018.
  3. Hake, Sabine. “In the Mirror of Fashion.” Women in the Metropolis: Gender and Modernity in Weimar Culture. Edited by Katharina von Ankum. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, page 191. Accessed May 21, 2018.
  4. Michalski, Serguisz. New Objectivity: Painting, Graphic Art and Photography in Weimar, Germany 1919–1933. Los Angeles: Taschen, 2003. Page 56. Accessed May 21, 2018.
  5. Stephen, Gunther. May 24, 2010. “Sylvia von Harden.” WEIMAR ART. Accessed May 21, 2018.
  6. Willette, Jeanne. March 17, 2017. “Art of the Weimar Republic: The German People as Subjects, Part One.” arthistoryunstuffed. Accessed May 21, 2018.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden

The Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (German: Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden) is a painting by German painter Otto Dix, from 1928. The painting was made in wood with a mixed technique of oil and tempera. The painting was bought from the artist in 1961 by the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris.


On a red and pink background, without decoration and opening, which evokes the angle of a cafe, the androgynous looking woman appears sitting cross-legged in front of a round table. She is wearing a red and black plaid dress with a high collar. She holds a lit cigarette in her right hand while the left rests on the right thigh. The fingers are long with slightly protruding bones. The face is triangular with a pointed chin. A long, clean nose separates the eyes surrounded by dark circles. She wears a monocle on the right eye. Her brown hair is very short. On her pale skin stands out the slightly ajar mouth highlighted with a dark red lipstick. The woman is wearing light stockings, the rolled edge of which can be seen on the right leg.

The woman's feet are not visible, because the portrait stops at mid-calf. On the table with a white marble top are placed a cigarette box marked with the name Sylvia von Harden, a matchbox bearing the German eagle and a conical glass three-quarters full. The round shapes of the art nouveau furniture contrast with the geometric shapes of the character and the objects.

The character occupies the left half of the painting. The absence of decorative background elements accentuates her strong "presence", with nothing distracting the viewers eye. The journalist poses three-quarters and looks sideways between the plane of the painting and the perpendicular one, which links the viewer to the portrait.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden.