Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919-33 review – August Sander and Otto Dix in a brilliant double bill

By Laura Cumming

Tate Liverpool
Sander sees the humanity in everyone, Dix nothing but horror in this superb show portraying Germany between the wars

A shifty industrialist sits behind a shining phone in Weimar Cologne. Three young farmers, on their way to a dance, stop for a second in sharp new suits. A gentleman beggar holds out his hat, as if in greeting, while travelling musicians roam the villages, bears dance in city squares, military cadets fight duels and the Turkish pedlar flogs his mousetraps. Anyone – everyone – is here.

This was August Sander‘s lifelong ambition, of course: to photograph the whole of Germany. It was an impossible vision, thwarted by the Nazis, and inevitably defeated by the artist's death. But by then, Sander (1876-1964) had cycled around depicting every face that struck him – farmers, politicians, plasterers, nuns, cleaners, writers, Gypsies, bankers, painters of both canvases and walls – to produce the greatest work of documentary photography in existence. Nothing less than humanity was Sander's subject, and he found it everywhere he looked. Each individual is accorded equal dignity.

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Source: Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919-33 review – August Sander and Otto Dix in a brilliant double bill