Otto Dix’s Portrait of the Author Sylvia von Harden is a painting which is, in the artist’s own words, “representative of an entire epoch”. Painted in 1926, the portrait’s unflattering interpretation of von Harden (a moderately successful journalist in both Britain and Germany) caricatures the ‘Neue Frau’, the popular image of an independent, educated “new” woman in Weimar Germany.

For me, at least, the charm of this painting lies not in its subject herself but in the realistic, expressionist style in which she is presented. The portrait is a prime example of the “Neue Sachlichkeit” (New Objectivity) movement, and this objectivity makes the painting so unsympathetic. Also, the other parts of the painting evoke the spirit of Weimar Germany: the semi-ornate café furniture, the elegantly-gripped cigarette, the casual cocktail, the androgynous haircut and the scarlet lipstick; all convey the feeling of morbid debauchery of the period, again in Dix’s words “not concerned with the outward beauty of a woman but rather with her psychological condition.” It is no surprise that the most notable film of recent times set in the period – Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel Goodbye to Berlin – recreated the portrait in its opening scenes.

The painting is now housed in the permanent collection at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in the Pompidou Centre in Paris.